Rick Hofs probably didn’t want his life to end this way: alone and curled up in his sleeping gear outside the back door of a Marpole dollar store.
He was only 49 — only, in the same way Mayor Gregor Robertson and Premier Christy Clark are only 48 and 47, respectively.
Can you imagine their lives cut short before 50?
Hofs, a tall, thin bearded man missing his top teeth, wasn’t a politician. He was homeless and he drank a lot. Vodka, preferably Silent Sam, was his drink of choice.
He had been in and out of hospital, was prone to seizures and looked to be in deteriorating health in recent months, his friends say.
So when Regina Luk showed up to her dollar store on the morning of Dec. 27 to see Hofs sacked out in his familiar place in the loading bay, she checked on his condition.
There was no response. She called 911. When paramedics rolled up to the back of Amy’s Loonie-Toonie Town on the northeast corner of 70th and Granville, Luk said they didn’t spend much time with Hofs.
“He must have already been dead,” she said Wednesday from inside her store, where her husband John manned the till.
Police attended and determined Hofs’ death wasn’t suspicious. The B.C. Coroners Service continues to investigate and it could take several months before they conclude how Hofs died.
A few days before his death, on Christmas Eve, Hofs visited the Luks in the store to thank them for allowing him to sleep in their loading bay.
It was Hofs’ refuge for several years, the exact number of which was unclear to the Luks, who have operated their store for almost 13 years.
“He was a very good guy,” said Regina, noting she and her husband were in tears when Hofs’ body was taken away by the coroner. “He was very friendly and always reading. My son said he must be in heaven now because he was always reading the Bible.”
News of his death spread quickly in the neighbourhood, where he was watched over and helped by many who bought him clothes, books, blankets and food.
“He was like part of Marpole,” recalled Kevin Hayer, who would lend Hofs 10 bucks here and there, always to be paid back from what he believes was Hofs’ disability cheque.
Hayer operates Mr. Pickwick’s Fish and Chips in a strip mall across the street from the Luks’ store. Hayer and Hofs watched Vancouver Canucks games on television in the restaurant, sometimes past closing.
Their friendship led to Hofs sharing that he once was married and had a child. Hayer also learned Hofs had carpentry skills. He planned to put him to work this spring to help build a small patio deck in front of the restaurant.
“As in as bad of shape that he was, I was shocked,” Hayer said when learned of his friend’s death. “I expected to still see him here because, you know, it’s Rick —Rick’s always here.”
Friend Sally Bennett, a writer who lives in the neighbourhood, said Hofs refused to seek refuge in a shelter or consider housing elsewhere in the city; Marpole Place Neighbourhood House operates a shelter three blocks from the intersection of 70th and Granville.
Over the years, she said, many people tried to convince Hofs he could lead a healthier life, if he had a place to call home.
“There were people here in Marpole who really gave a damn about him and really wanted to help and we couldn’t,” she said, going on to name the owners of the now-defunct Characters bookstore and the head cashier at the former Safeway. “It’s kind of crushing.”
Bennett believes Hofs’ decline was exacerbated by the loss of his pit bull cross, Bandit, four years ago. Somebody stole the dog and despite an effort by friends to locate him, the animal was never found.
“It broke Rick’s heart,” she said. “There was sort of a general acknowledgement that things were never the same with him. He started to go downhill after that.”
A small shrine consisting mainly of poinsettias has grown outside the dollar store. Among the plants, a scarf, a plush toy of a dog and a Christmas tree angel was a card.
An anonymous author wrote: “Thank you for your kindness. You will be missed by all. You touched our lives. We love you.”