GREENSBORO — They call him the “Trumpet Man.’’ Or maybe Uncle Bill.
He lives off Summit Avenue in a one-bedroom apartment where he reads, paints and plays his trumpet.
He has a job now. He paints houses. He also has a place showing a dozen of his paintings through the end of the month: Tate Street Coffee House. So, he’s happy, as he says, “in my soul.’’
That’s Bill Walsh . He’s 63 , and he’s pretty new to Greensboro. He came here in September.
Ask him how he got here, and that’s where his story begins.
He walked from Philadelphia, his hometown. Money had gotten tight, house painting jobs had dried up and Walsh found himself homeless and then living with his mother.
He needed to get away. Destination: Florida. He wanted to find house-painting jobs and places to play his trumpet, his instrument since age 7 .
So, on Aug. 12 , he started walking south.
He walked at least 20 miles a day. He started at daybreak and stopped right after dark. He slept on an Indian blanket, carried his trumpet, kept his clothes in a backpack and got by on sardines, beans, fresh fruit and water he kept in a gallon milk jug.
He had no money. He didn’t ask for any. Strangers came through.
In Maryland, he got a shower and new clothes. In Virginia, he got $50 and five pounds of tomatoes. In North Carolina, at a church in Franklin County, he feasted on watermelon, fried chicken and sweet potato pie.
On Sept. 1 , he snagged a ride from Chapel Hill to Greensboro, was dropped off on Randleman Road and heard about the Weaver House, our city’s shelter.
He started walking — again.
He had been sun-blasted for 21 days , and he wanted a shower, food and a bed. He figured a few days off the road would do him good.
Then, he looked around. He liked what he saw. Center City Park reminded him of Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square , and the old homes in Fisher Park reminded him of the way he used to make a living.
So he stayed. At first, he was homeless, and he bounced from the Weaver House to the woods to a winter shelter at First Presbyterian Church . But every day, he played his trumpet downtown.
Word spread. Walsh became Greensboro’s “Trumpet Man.’’ He’d play anything from classical to jazz. One day, while playing in Fisher Park, he was noticed by a neighbor.
Walsh wound up showing the neighbor his portfolio and talked about his career in painting, which started 40 years ago as an art student. Walsh got a commission, his first paycheck in years. And he found a new home.
Today, Walsh has joined a church, rented an apartment, feeds the homeless once a week and has started making money by painting houses and painting people and landscapes.
This month, at Tate Street Coffee, he has his first exhibit in more than a year .
Check out his apartment, a place with no TV, and you’ll see his work on the walls and shelves full of books he’s checked out from the library, including Charles Dickens and William Manchester’s biography on Winston Churchill.
Check out his sketchbooks and journals, and you’ll find most anything — a favorite quote, a self-portrait, a sketch of a Volkswagen bus he saw in Virginia.
Or simply ask him about Greensboro. Uncle Bill, the Trumpet Man, has an answer.
“I like this place more than any other place I’ve lived,’’ he says. “I’ve survived.’’
Contact Jeri Rowe at
373-7374 or jeri.rowe