Vendor Memorial: Leonard Hyater Jr.
On July 13, Leonard Calvin Hyater Jr. died by natural causes at the age of 59, according to a police report. He grew up and worked in the D.C. Metro area, attending Suitland Senior High School and hearing tales of how his dad used to play ball with Marvin Gaye in Lincoln Heights.
The week before his death, Hyater had just celebrated receipt of a Maryland real estate certification and scheduled a test for late July to become re-licensed as a mortgage loan officer. He had been selling the Street Sense Media newspaper since 2012 while working toward these goals and living at shelters. One of his customers had generously sponsored a laptop and the cost of the certification courses.
“If you really looked at him, you wouldn’t know that he was homeless,” said Jeffery McNeil, a friend and fellow Street Sense Media vendor. “He made the best of it.”
McNeil worked with Hyater every other Wednesday morning as part of the team of vendors who unload the delivery of the latest edition of Street Sense. They also sold the paper several blocks away from each other near Farragut Square. Hyater could be found at 18th and M Streets NW every weekday morning. That’s where he met local news legend Jim Vance.
“He really liked selling papers,” McNeil said. “He was out there every morning, bright and early. Sleet or snow, he was dedicated.”
They met in Adams Morgan, before Hyater worked for the paper. They both played in a friendly poker league. Nothing serious, the winner might get a free meal from the bar. But as time passed, McNeil began to see Hyater in other familiar places: Miriam’s Kitchen, Central Union Mission and the park at Dupont Circle.
“He was always nice to me, laid back, not overly political,” McNeil said. “He dreamed of getting out of that shelter and getting his own place.”
Most days, after selling newspapers in the morning, Hyater would come to the Street Sense Media office to unwind. If there was a free computer, he would watch movies or old television shows on YouTube. It was most obvious how much he enjoyed film and entertainment when an unexpected burst of his laughter or a whispered warning to a character on the screen came out. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of many actors’ work.
Hyater was proud and sincere. He wore his emotions on his sleeves and was not shy about discussing the money he had earned that day and how much he should be able to put into savings. He often talked about finding scripture while incarcerated and how it guides his daily life. And he proselytized about the daily changes he was making to his diet: losing weight, eating healthier and receiving positive feedback from his doctor.
His work contained many tributes to the great personalities and performers he admired: Jim Vance, Marvin Gaye, Robin Williams, Al Jareau,and most importantly, his father, a retired police officer who died in May.
It is only fitting that we wish him the same sentiments. Rest in peace, Leonard Hyater Jr.
A memorial service will be held on Thursday, Aug. 2 at 2 p.m. in the sanctuary of the Church of the Epiphany at 1317 G Street NW.
This article has been updated to reflect Leonard Hyater Jr. regularly sold papers at the corner of M and 18th Streets NW. It initially said M and 19th Street.