Nobody at the the homeless shelter where Richard Walters lived before he died in 2007 could believe the news. But it was said that the homeless man was the same guy who had given away $4 million to about a dozen non-profit organizations -- including National Public Radio.
Turned out Walters was an ex-Marine, Purdue University engineering graduate, and former engineer at AlliedSignal Corp.
Rita Belle, a registered nurse who met Walters at a homeless shelter 13 years ago, describes him as a quiet guy who would come to the shelter wearing a backpack and a baseball cap, and who was very reserved.
The outgoing Belle asked the shy man to have coffee and chat with her one morning, and they became friends.
"He just gave up all of the material things that we think we have to have," Belle tells National Public Radio. "You know, I don't know how we gauge happiness. What's happy for you might not be happy for me. I never heard him complain."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Walters' millions may have come from investments he was managing from the phone at the homeless shelter. Belle says he would often discuss the stock market and other investments with her during their daily coffee routine, and, at one time, even used his engineering skills to fix her air conditioner.
Walters had no car, no house, but carried a radio with him everywhere he went. A few weeks ago, NPR host Robert Siegel was curious about the source of a $400,000 donation to NPR, so he Googled the name of the donor. The name Richard Walters came up. He then found an announcement of Walters' death in an online newsletter for a Catholic mission in Phoenix.
Richard Walters also gave $400,000 to the Mission of Mercy, a mobile medical provider in Phoenix, its executive director said.