He is the homeless man who stands outside the Citibank branch in North Beach and never asks for a handout, becoming a neighborhood fixture by simply nodding to passers-by and saying, “Have a nice day” and, “God bless you.”
Most people who have walked past Selester Rowe for the past five years know little about the man who was critically injured last weekend after being struck by a hit-and-run driver at Stockton Street and Columbus Avenue.
But the homeless man they call Les is a “perfect gentleman,” which appears to be enough for the North Beach community to rally for his recovery.
“In this neighborhood, a lot of homeless people are really aggressive,” said Paulina Krol, who works at wine bar Dell’Uva. “He’s different. He’s never asked me for anything.”
Rowe, 62, was crossing the street with a piece of pizza May 12 when he was struck by a speeding SUV, according to family, friends and police. He suffered brain and spinal injuries and is fighting for his life at San Francisco General Hospital.
The community has come together since the tragedy. Krol teamed with the nonprofit North Beach Citizens, which has provided services to Rowe, to set up a recovery fund at the Citibank branch. Get-well cards from the community cover an entire wall in his hospital room, Krol said. And a makeshift shrine honoring Rowe was erected near North Beach Restaurant.
Yet few people know much about Rowe.
His mother and two sisters, who came to San Francisco to be at his bedside, say they had no idea Rowe was homeless. Rowe would text or call his family saying he was doing fine, said sister La’Creaser Rock, 64, of Phenix City, Ala.
“We were surprised,” Rock said. “He’s a very apt man. Very, very smart. He was well-known in Columbus, Georgia. People ask about him and I say he’s doing fine.”
Rowe graduated from Tuskegee University, where he was in the same class as singer Lionel Richie, Rock said. Rowe was an architect who helped draw the blueprints for the Columbus, Ga., courthouse, she said.
He also was a stockbroker at Morgan Stanley, said Kristie Fairchild, executive director of North Beach Citizens.
Rowe’s sister could not confirm that, but said it was probably true.
“He is very well-spoken and very intelligent,” Fairchild said.
People love him simply for being kind, Krol said.
“Honestly, he just told everybody to have a nice day,” she said.