Marshall Street workers remember Gertis McDowell

Locals share stories about the unofficial "mayor of Marshall Street."

Marshall Street fixture and unofficial “mayor” Gertis McDowell died Jan. 7 and won’t be welcoming patrons and students anymore.

McDowell died in his apartment due to natural causes, police confirmed.

“I’m gonna miss him, and I’m gonna miss buying him chicken wings and smoking cigarettes with him,” said Josh Pierce, a barber at Campus Cuts on Marshall Street.

Pierce said McDowell was the “mayor of Marshall Street” and people will miss him greatly.

“No matter how rude people were to him, he never responded in a hostile nature.”
- John Vavalo

McDowell, aged 67, frequently sat at the corner of Marshall Street and University Avenue in his wheelchair, waving a change cup at passers-by and calling out, “Hey, pretty lady!” to women walking past.

“I’m gonna miss him a lot,” Pierce said.

The barbershop is a few feet from McDowell’s regular spot, and Pierce said the man was well liked by the store’s employees.

“He certainly enjoyed himself and did whatever he wanted to do,” said John Vavalo, owner of J Michael Shoes.

Despite making some women feel uncomfortable and deterring shoppers at times, there was one characteristic Vavalo admired about McDowell — his attitude.

“No matter how rude people were to him, he never responded in a hostile nature,” he said.

Pierce recalled summers during which McDowell would save him and other Marshall Street employees from parking tickets — he would shout whenever someone was in danger of getting a ticket.

“He told me he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. once,” Pierce said, describing McDowell's unique background.

“He was just one of those guys that you didn’t mind,” Pierce said. “He was always trying to make you look at the glass half full.”

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