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02.13.2012 | News | 7

6 | News | 02.13.2012


By Justin McElroy and Laura Rodgers

ravers Roy Wimble started almost every morning the same way. “I’d see him at McDonald’s, having a coffee,” says Michael Benz, a man who collects cans and bottles on UBC campus. “It was at about a quarter to six. And then at about 6:30, I’d catch him going back over to the Student Union Building.” Once inside, Wimble would sit down in a wide, square chair near the entrance to the south concourse—sandwiched innocuously between vending machines and the wall—and begin to read a newspaper. But last Thursday, when Wimble failed to appear, AMS janitor Tootsa Gheorgheos noticed immediately. “I was worried, because I saw in the last couple months that he was more pale than usual, and he was quite old,” she says. Later that morning, Gheorgheos learned why Wimble was not in his chair. The night before, he had collapsed near the corner of Wesbrook Mall and University Boulevard and when the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services reached Wimble, he had already passed away. Wimble was 83. Immediately, thousands of students began to pay their respects to a man few knew but everyone saw. Some spoke to him for years without knowing his age or background. For most, even his name was a mystery. Some called him Santa—for his beard—or Abraham Lincoln, for his stoic presence: seated deep in the chair like the memorial in Washington. Many called him Chairbo, or simply, “the man in the SUB.” But Travers was called “Travis” or “Trev” by friends, and treasured his privacy. In a span of nearly 25 years at UBC, he revealed little about himself. And yet a campus is mourning in a way he might not have expected. He didn’t have a home. But he had a community. •••

Travers Roy Wimble 1928-2012

“We never knew your name, but we all knew your face. We never knew you in person, but we regret that we haven’t. We hope you rest in peace and the place you move on to will be as comfortable as this chair.” —A message left on the chair occupied almost daily by Travers Roy Wimble

“I was thinking this story should have been written when he was alive, you know?” says Irfan Reayat, an AMS security guard who occasionally talked to Wimble. What we do know can be pieced together from the recollections of those that spoke with him often. Walking back and forth from Wreck Beach, Anthony Wheyne would often talk to Wimble, sometimes giving him a newspaper. He says of the man, “He was a listener, which I think was one of his charming attributes.” Wimble was born in 1928 and grew up in Vancouver, raised by his mother. “I don’t know about other brothers and sisters,” Wheyne says. “He didn’t mention that, but I got the impression that times were sort of tough for him.” To make money as a kid during the Depression, Travers would ride on the bumpers of cars, helping drivers steer when visibility was low. “In those days [there were] major pollution problems, like fog so thick you couldn’t even [see],” Wheyne says. “Travis as a child used to ride on the bumpers of cars through Hastings Street, pointing out which way for the guy to steer, because you couldn’t drive through there some days.” Wimble told people that he served in the Korean War as an adult. He married and began raising a family. At one point, according to Wheyne, he mentioned working in a laundromat. But he lost both his wife and daughter to accidents, incidents which those who knew Wimble say left him heartbroken. “I would say, ‘Trevor, God really loves you,’” a UBC Food Services worker told Global News. “And he said, ‘No, God doesn’t love me, because he took my wife and my daughter.’…It made him very sad.” ••• Wimble began sitting in the south concourse six years ago, but had been a daily visitor to the SUB since 2002, and UBC Security says he had been on campus for nearly 25 years. The university generally prevents homeless people from becoming regular patrons of any one place, but made an exception for Wimble. “At first, I asked, ‘Why do we allow him here?’” says Sindy Sohi, who became manager of SUB custodial services two years ago. “I was told that he was allowed to stay, that campus security was fine with him, because he was so decent.” “When I came here I was told about [some homeless people] causing trouble,” says Shaun Wilson, AMS Security manager. “But we were told that he was fine, never causing trouble.” SUB staff would often give him leftover food at the end of the day, while some students would offer him food or change. Some jokingly referred to him as the guardian of the building—a description that wasn’t far off. Thomas Weidner, who has worked for the SUB proctor’s office for six years, says Wimble kept a benevolent eye on all that went on around him.

The “old man in the SUB” remembered “I wish you were here to see just how many people are missing your presence in the SUB—people who didn’t really show it when you were here. I wish you could know that people actually cared that you sat there.” “You were known as ‘Chairbo’ and ‘old guy in the SUB.’ But I simply called you the man with no home. I hope you’ve finally found your home.” “I’ll never forget when once I walked up to him and said: ‘Excuse me sir, would you accept it if I gave you $5 for lunch?’ The smile that appeared on his face was something I’ll never forget. He didn’t know what to say at first, then he shook my hand, took the money and was looking at it, as if he couldnt believe it. Then he smiled again, very warmly and kindly, thanking me. I wished him an enjoyable afternoon and left.” “I hope you’ve understood by now that my incredible shyness and fear of offending you prevented me from having a long conversation with you. I hope to know your story. I will miss you. Rest in peace. “When I came back to UBC this fall after a few years, the first person I looked to find was you. I can’t believe you’re gone. Everyone at UBC will miss you. You were like a kind grandpa, your presence always comforting and reassuring. “I wish I had bothered to talk to you or buy you food. Now I won’t ever get the chance. If there is an afterlife, I’m sure you would be in a better place now. Over here, we’ll make sure your seat is never taken by anyone else.” “You don’t realize how much you miss someone until they’re gone. I wish you were here to see just how many people are missing your presence in the SUB. People who didn’t really show it when you were here. I wish you could know that people actually cared that you sat there. It’s like you were watching over us this entire time. I am sure you are a man full of stories to share, I wish I’d taken the opportunity to ask you about them.” —notes posted on Wimble’s chair. “The only thing that I grabbed was that life is bitter, can be bitter sometimes. The good thing is what you can extract from that bitterness, and to be more positive. I hope that he is in peace and I also think that there are so many other stories like him moving around us, all we need to do is, in our busy life, just ponder these people—who are they, where do they come from and why they are in a state and what can be done? Because he is someone who made a difference. —Irfan Reayat “That’s why he was a rather special person actually, and he went suddenly, which meant he really kept it to himself, which I really admire. He was a real bird, he looked good right until the end, then just disappeared.” —Anthony Wheyne

“[He was] keeping an eye on the building, making sure nothing bad was going on,” says Weidner. “He would give tips on people he saw coming into the building that he thought were shady-looking. He would let me know, or [let] security know, to watch that guy. There are people in the past we’ve had trouble with, [and] he would let us know right away. “Three years ago, there was a guy that came in and lit some microwaves on fire downstairs in the food service area. He saw him, and let us know who it was.” Wimble could be seen leaving the SUB each evening, but there is debate about where he finished his days. Some say he used to sleep near the Lutheran Campus Centre across from CIBC, others say he stayed closer to Alma, and others claim he was staying in a hotel downtown at the time of his death. Ubyssey File Photo It was one of those Travers Wimble, seen here in a 2006 photo, was well-known to students and things he didn’t like to talk about. Wimble SUB staff. would be happy to talk with people in the SUB who engaged with him, but preferred to keep the conversation away from his personal life. “He had a sense of humour and it wasn’t too hard to get a chuckle or a laugh out of him,” Wheyne says, “[but] he told me he didn’t really discuss his life. He was a very sort of private, proud person and you just didn’t go there.” Though some tried. “I did try to be curious about who he was but he didn’t want us to find out,” Reayat says. “I wondered what he did, where he lived. He did say that he liked sitting here, that it was just like home to him, but he never discussed his past. “[But] even while commenting difficult life can be sometimes, he always said you can take something positive from it.” ••• Despite Wimble’s age, his death came as a shock to many who knew him. “I was shocked because...he didn’t seem to be sick or ill or [to have] any disease, ‘cause he was walking fine, he never complained,” Reayat says. “He looked good right until the end, then just disappeared,” Wheyne says. Reports of Wimble’s death trickled in from unconfirmed sources beginning on February 8, and by February 10 his passing had been confirmed by the regional coroner’s office, and police notified his surviving kin. “Initial investigation suggests that [Wimble] died of natural causes,” says Corporal Robert Ploughman of the RCMP’s university detachment. “He was someone who was well-known to us all, and was a part of the university community.” David Pendlebury, the AMS Security employee who first confirmed Wimble’s death, was also saddened when he heard the news. “I’ve known Trevor for two and a half years, and talked to him quite a few times. I’m actually slightly devastated that he’s gone. “It’s going to be weird not seeing him there every day.” Within a day, the well-worn chair he used to sit in had become a sort of shrine, overflowing with flowers, candles, newspapers and heartfelt notes, paper cranes, cookies and five cups of coffee. Hundreds expressed their feelings on Facebook and Twitter, sharing anecdotes and the occasional nickname that had been thought up for the often-taciturn Wimble. One note read, “I’m sure you are a man full of stories to share, I wish I’d taken the opportunity to ask you about them. It’s funny how someone’s mere presence can connect and bring people together. You were part of our everyday atmosphere, and we will miss you in that chair of yours.” Another said simply, “You were cool, chair dude! We’ll remember you!” The flowers, cookies and candles won’t stay on the chair forever, but two UBC students, Erik MacKinnon and Paula Samper, have already begun to plan for a more lasting memorial for the much-beloved figure. They will ask AMS Council to dedicate a bench in his honour, and are also considering a plaque. Over the decades, without either side fully realizing it, a quiet respect had grown between Wimble and this campus. The flowers, notes, newspapers and food placed in front of his chair speak to a remarkable relationship. Or, as one note said simply: “He probably didn’t think he affected us. But he did.” U

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