David and pigeons at the lake

David and Laurie, a love story

We live among a wide range of people and some of them are homeless.  Some stay in Splash Pad Park, under the freeway, in the parking lots, and sometimes just sleep on our sidewalks.  They are human just like us and are our neighbors.  Many of us are uncomfortable or judgmental when we see homeless people on our streets.  Not Laurie Brown.  She got to work.

David Paul Frankfield was one of those souls.  He died on the #12 Bus bench in front of the gas station at Grand and Mandana.  David was our neighbor, an East Bay native, who had an apartment on Walker Avenue for many years and died on that bus bench on November 1, 2023, at the age of 73. This is his story.

It’s also the story of Laurie Brown, who met David in 2014 and brought him dinner every night until he died. More importantly, she was his friend. I spent hours talking to Laurie about David, their relationship, and all that she tried to do over the years to get him the support he needed.

Finally, this is the story of how the system supported and ultimately betrayed David.

We will tell David’s and Laurie’s story over the course of the next few monthly newsletters. This first segment will be about how the two of them met and developed a relationship over nine years of daily dinners.


Laurie and David Selfie

Laurie Brown is a fourth-generation East Bay woman who grew up in Oakland and Berkeley. At 14, her family moved to Orinda, but as soon as she could, she made her way back to Berkeley, where, in the 1980s, she opened a clothing shop on Telegraph Avenue called Anastasia’s, and where she met her husband Ken, who founded and owns Rasputin Records. She’s lived in the same house in Berkeley for the last 42 years.

Laurie says she finds herself almost daily on College Avenue between the campus and Broadway. “I had been observing this man from a distance in my car for years, and I was always very aware of him because he walked with total determination. And he seemed so intelligent to me like he was a professor or something. But over a few years, I just noticed that he was getting more and more bent and threadbare.”

One very cold and rainy night in 2014, she saw him standing on the sidewalk near the Wendy’s on Broadway, completely exposed to the elements. “I just felt his hunger and his aloneness in the world. And I thought, oh my God, this is not right. I’m going to come back and do what I can to help him,” she recalls with her own sense of determination.

Laurie and David finally meet

“When I came back the next day, I realized that his shoes had no soles and he had no socks and what looked like a jacket had no lining, and there was no shirt underneath it.” She introduced herself to him and “it felt like no one had done that simple gesture with him in a really long time.”

He refused her offer of homemade food that day and the next due to having gotten sick from bad food that he had received from others, but on day three, he finally agreed to let her buy him some food from Wendy’s, knowing he could trust that food. “And then I just started coming back every single day, bringing him dinner and visiting with him.”

“One day, early on, we were walking past Mrs. Dalloway’s on College and they had a display of Greek mythology books; he started sharing with me information about Homer and the Odyssey, which he knew like an encyclopedia. He looked at me and said ‘Fun, Laurie. Fun.’ I think he was just looking for a friend.”

Learning about David’s past

Over the years, Laurie worked to learn as much as she could about David’s past and what brought him to homelessness at age 47. She found out that he was raised in Oakland, went to Skyline High, and that his father owned National Mattress stores in Oakland and San Leandro that he had worked in as a young man.

After graduating from the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC), he lived on Walker Avenue for many years until a falling out with his father and the consequent loss of a $400 monthly stipend meant he could no longer afford to pay the rent. Homeless for the first time, he chose to live in an alley near CCAC, and was there for more than 20 years. In 2022, with the help of a social worker, Laurie got him into the Tiny Homes Village in San Leandro. However, circumstances, which we’ll talk about in a future article, cut his stay indoors to a short and abrupt end. Finally, he came back to the Grand Lake neighborhood, spending his time near the Lake, on Grand Avenue near Mandana, and on Athol near MacArthur, near where an old girlfriend had lived.  “He could walk for miles each day, and always ended up back at a place that held memories of a better time,” Laurie says.

Each day Laurie would bring him a healthy, vegetable-packed dinner. After he ate, he always said, “Thank you, Laurie, that was pretty good.” Always tidy, he’d neatly dispose of leftover food in the garbage can at the other end of the alley and then he would come back and they’d visit for a while. “He was very much in control of himself and what he wanted, and I was just along for the ride.” Every evening, after dinner, she gave him enough money to get coffee and “a better bakery” the next morning.

“I never missed a Christmas or a Thanksgiving ever because everything was closed on those two days. He was my friend. I just loved him. He was always completely original and always totally astonishing,” she says.

David at the lake

In the last month of David’s life, he didn’t have the strength to make it up the hill to Athol anymore. Laurie says that he either slept on the ground in Splash Pad Park or in the parking lot behind Walden Pond Books. The last three weeks of his life, he didn’t have the strength to get off the bus bench on Grand Avenue and there he died. “He had found out nine months earlier that he had leukemia, but he ultimately died of hypertension and congestive heart failure,” she said.

“Even when he was living up by CCAC, I would always try to get him to go visit the lake because we often talked about the bird sanctuary, how much he loved nature, and how he enjoyed seeing concerts at the bandstand,” Laurie recalls. “I just pray that he enjoyed his last few months around the lake because I think nature was his ultimate friend and comfort in life.”


By debra chaplan

Debra Chaplan became the publisher of the Splashpad News in February 2024. She’s lived in the Grand Lake neighborhood for 30 years. With a career doing communications and educational programming for several unions, she’s pleased to use those skills for the neighborhood and city that she loves.


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Comments

One response to “David and Laurie, a love story”

  1. Kathy Dittmer Avatar
    Kathy Dittmer

    What a beautiful love story. Laurie is an angel. If we each find one person to love and help – how beautiful that would be – Kathy

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