Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Don Depue was the homeless guest who appreciated the details

TAMPA — Don Depue was a regal man who stood out among the slouchers and headphone-wearing homeless at the Trinity Cafe.

He had perfect L-posture at Table One, where you could find him every day for about 2 1/2 years. He never put his elbows on the table, always took small sips and bites and savored everything.

The Trinity Cafe is a soup kitchen in substance but a fine-dining restaurant in style, with multiple courses and set tables that bring a dignified lunch to some undistinguished lives.

Depue was the homeless guest who noticed. While many clients passed on compliments, he was the only one who walked into the kitchen after every meal to praise the chef, always including a detail he had noticed, like the garlic croutons topping the pinto bean soup.

To staff and volunteers, who have served more than 700,000 meals within the independent cafe housed in the downtown Salvation Army building, Depue's courtesy and manners were their reminder of just how thin the line was between them and the streets.

So the ignominious way such a stately man died affected even the most experienced among them, stealing some of their deep hope in humanity.

Chef Alfred Astl found him Friday morning unconscious and uncovered outside the building's dock with a submarine sandwich for a pillow and flies buzzing around.

"What is this, Calcutta?" Astl asked. "I've been doing this 10 years, and this was the most uncivilized thing I've ever seen."

Depue was taken to Tampa General Hospital, then moved to a hospice, where he died Sunday. He was 70.

Astl, a chef who gave up a three-decade-long restaurant career that included a stop at the historic Hotel Jerome in Aspen, is known for a gruffness that shields a giving heart. But Depue, who slept outside the building, broke through.

Every morning as Astl drove in, Depue awoke and asked him about the day's menu. On rainy days, the chef sent a volunteer down with a cup of coffee and whatever pastry was left over.

Depue hung around the Salvation Army because he was a religious man who attended the church services. He told his friends his father was a Methodist minister. He wore a crucifix and carried a rosary.

He thought of the entire building as a church and politely asked anyone who cursed to rephrase their words. He didn't evangelize but always carried a hardbound black Bible.

He told friends he was an only child. He said his wife ran off with another man and his only son had died of cancer. He owned an electronics store on Armenia Avenue for years but the recession and the IRS claimed it. His friends say he never smoked, drank or used drugs.

Sister Maureen Dorr, a nun at the Trinity Cafe, lent him books about Jesus that he consumed as vigorously as his meals. He was especially fond of dessert and sometimes ate three or four.

Six feet tall with a long, jovial face and swept-back hair, he was always seen in a maroon windbreaker. Program director Cindy Davis tried to give him a warmer coat but he pointed to his gray fleece lining.

Dorr tried to give him two warm shirts but he would only take one. "No sister, no, no, I have enough," he would say.

In his final weeks, the staff noticed he was getting thinner. He lost his appetite, prompting the chef to send Dorr from the kitchen to encourage Depue to eat.

He would tell the nun he was just taking his time.

But the staff saw him walk around with labored breaths. His friends said he was speaking nonsensically at times. He held a soda can tight for four hours last week but no one could figure out why.

When paramedics woke him, he told them it was 1992 and George H.W. Bush was president.

At Tampa General Hospital, Trinity Cafe volunteers Barb and Jim Allen brought Depue chocolate kisses. They said he was positive, as usual, and wouldn't talk about his condition.

At the Melech Hospice House, his final words were, "I'm ready. I'm going home," staff members were told.

But the way Depue's street friends heard it, his last words really began with a refined request:

"Tuck me in …"

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

>>

Donald Depue

Born: March 9, 1941.

Died: May 29, 2011.

Survivors: None.

Don Depue was the homeless guest who appreciated the details 06/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 11:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Cridlin: Linkin Park's Chester Bennington had a wail that stood apart

    Music & Concerts

    For all the old-timers' talk about how they don't make singers like they used to, about how rock vocalists of the 21st century can't hold a candle to the frontmen of yesteryear, here's a fact no hater could deny:

    Chester Bennington could flat-out wail.

    Chester Bennington of Linkin Park  performs at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for the 2014 Carnivores Tour. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Police investigating shooting in north Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Police were investigating a shooting in north Tampa Thursday that left one person seriously injured.

  3. Macy's chairman replaces ex-HSN head Grossman on National Retail Federation board

    Retail

    Terry Lundgren, chairman of Macy's Inc., will replace Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman as chair of the National Retail Federation, the organization announced Wednesday. Grossman stepped down from her position following her move from leading St. Petersburg-based HSN to Weight Watchers.

    Weight Watchers CEO and former HSN chief Mindy Grossman is being replaced as chair of the National Retail Federation. [HSN Inc.]
  4. Team begins work to exhume Salvador Dali's body for paternity test

    World

    FIGUERES, Spain — A forensic team on Thursday entered the Salvador Dali museum in northeastern Spain where the surrealist artist's remains are due to be exhumed to settle a paternity claim brought by a 61- year-old woman.

    Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, presents his first Chrono-Hologram in Paris, France, in 1973. Work has begun to exhume his body for a parternity test. Dali, considered one of the fathers of surrealism in art, died in 1989 and is buried in his museum in the northeastern town of Figueres. [Associated Press]
  5. Good news for Rays on Steven Souza Jr. as MRI shows 'no damage' to hip

    Blogs

    The Rays got good news today on RF Steven Souza Jr., as an MRI showed "no damage" to his left hip.

    Steven Souza Jr. #20 of the Tampa Bay Rays holds his leg after hurting himself trying to steal second base in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on July 19, 2017 in Oakland, California.