Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Lessons from a Recovering Doormat


Interview with Richard LeMieux



Today I’m continuing my Embracing SUCCESS series with Richard LeMieux, who ran his own successful business for 14 years and was very financially solvent, had a happy marriage and lived a decadent lifestyle. But when his business failed, he lost his livelihood, his home, his possessions, his wife of 17 years, and his children.

Suddenly, he was living out of a van with only his dog Willow for company. Willow saved him from committing suicide when things looked bleak.

Richard was homeless in Bremerton, Washington for a year and a half. With a secondhand manual typewriter, he sat at picnic tables in parks writing his new book, Breakfast at Sally’s (Skyhorse Publishing, 2008), about his journey living off the kindness of the Salvation Army’s and other organizations’ kitchens. He also describes folks he met along the way. Richard’s memoir tells the story of one man’s resilience in the face of economic disaster. His quiet determination and determined willingness to live with his situation is evident in this story of an all-too-common American condition.

Richard created the Willow Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit organization to raise awareness about the homeless and to help other service organizations assist the homeless with emergency housing, food, and other necessities and services. Funded by book sales, royalties, speaking fees, and corporate and private donations, The Willow Charitable Foundation is dedicated to a community-based approach to the problem of homelessness.

Richard LeMieux may not be rich but I consider him a role model for SUCCESS. He’s using his book to help people in the situation he’d been in. Here’s what he said:

What was your life like before you were homeless? I had a great life with all the trappings that indicated my success. A beautiful home on the water, boats, cars, hot tubs, exotic vacations were all part of my ‘success’ in business.

How did you become homeless? I had a directory publishing company before days of Internet prevalence in our marketplace. I did not see some of those changes coming and in one year all my biggest clients decided to build web sites instead of buy advertising in my directories. I hadn’t really built a safety net for myself that would have sustained that level of business loss.

What was your life like when you were homeless? For the first 6 months, in my mind, I could sort of tell myself that Willow (my faithful canine companion) and I were on a ‘camping’ trip. Migrating around town from church parking lots to campgrounds. I was fortunate, I still had my car, a van I stayed in, many people did not have that.

Where did you eat/sleep when you were homeless? My van was Willow’s and my “home on wheels” and we could get hot meals at The Salvation Army and other meals programs around town like The Lord’s Diner, the Methodist Church and the Lutheran Church.

How did your dog, Willow, affect your experience of homelessness? Willow continues to be my companion and she is a certified mental health service dog. The need to take care of her was and is what keeps me going.

Do you think Willow saved your life one night on a bridge? Absolutely. There was really no way that from the center of the Narrows Bridge I could have actually heard her barking in the car when I left her at the observation deck with a note on the dash saying, “This is my dog Willow, I call her the Wonder Dog, Please take care of her.” But I ‘heard’ her nonetheless. I could not leave her there by herself not knowing if she would be cared for.

What role did mental illness play in becoming homeless? My therapist at Kitsap Mental Health once told me that I should not be alive. The number of things I lost in one year, my successful business, my house, my wife, the estrangements of my children all contributed to my fall into depression and struggle with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). The darkness of this time consumed me. I saw no way out.

There are a lot of stereotypes of homeless people – is there a common thread of why people become homeless or what types of people become homeless? In the ‘beginning’ when I started writing (or journaling as my therapist called it) Breakfast at Sally’s there was no purpose. Now there most definitely is a purpose. If you’d told me when I was 50 years old, atop the Eiffel Tower that I would be homeless when I was 59, I’d have said there is no way. And at 55 when I was on a cruise through Greece, I’d have said you were crazy. There will always be the stereotypes of homelessness, but what I found on the streets were people like you and me, educators and nurses, teachers and skilled labor, children and teenagers, families split between shelters. A cross section of our country and people just like us fallen on a bad time, a lost job, a medical condition, a death, a foreclosure.

How did people treat you when you were homeless? I felt like an outsider in the store, the bank, all the places that were a part of my previous life. Those that I met on the street turned out to be the purest form of relationship, there were no expectations, there was no judgment, there were those who maybe only had $5 to their name and they would give you $3 if you needed it. Generosity like I’d never seen before. I “found myself” there so to speak, in a way I never had.

What is your relationship with the Salvation Army? How do they help homeless people? I still go see Pat the cook, Major Baker, eat meals and do what I can for those still on the street. The Salvation Army does an amazing work in our communities, many times un-acknowledged. I am always struck by their “motto” so to speak and it resonates with the kindness I found there.

How can we solve this crisis of homeless people in the U.S.? WE can. That is the answer. It’s each of us doing a small thing that snowballs into a movement in our society. I am part of the formation of Willow Charitable Foundation that will work toward
doing just that. Using the awareness tool of Breakfast at Sally’s and the arts through music and visual arts in a unique way to put faces on our homeless, put a face on the statistics. Only in connecting with a story will we change our future story.

What is your life like now? Willow and I share life in an apartment and still pinch ourselves to realize what a special opportunity we have make life different for many, many people. I am ready to sit on Oprah’s couch. I want to win the Pulitzer and march that plaque down to our Salvation Army corps in Bremerton and slap it up on Major Baker’s wall. Just this far is a dream, why not dream big!

I highly recommend reading Breakfast at Sally’s if you want some inspiration and to read more about Richard’s incredible story of hope.

If you enjoyed my post, please leave a comment and/or click on the bookmark and write a short review at some of the sites, especially Stumbleupon and Digg. Thanks!

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  • http://peace-joy-love.typepad.com Tiko

    Wow…that is a very touching story. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • VickiLA

    This story really makes me rethink some values. Reading his last statements about being so happy b/c he can now help others in his situation is so touching and a lesson about happiness. Thanks Daylle!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Thanks for letting me know it touched you. I’m so happy to share these kinds of stories.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16245567737280026460 Jean

    I am reading ‘Breakfast at Sally’s and am forever changed. Thank you for this article. I had been wondering how Mr. LeMieux was doing. This book has been a serious reality check.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Glad you found the interview helpful Jean! His story is truly eye-opening.

  • Pam Bachman

    Pam Bachman, Columbus Michigan – My sister, who lives in Bremerton told me about Richard. This story is about God’s love for all of us. We all take for granted what we have. I hope this story makes us all mindful and thankful for what we have. And Richards comment about those that have nothing being the most generous people he has ever met? That’s something to ponder, no?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Thanks for stopping by Pam. Richard is truly an inspiration. I too have found that those with the least to give give the most.

  • Anonymous

    I am half way through the book and am wondering why nobody in his family would take him in. What is going on?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    A sad commentary on people, who seem to be able to ignore the pain of others in pursuit of their own needs.

  • Anonymous

    I have just finished this remarkable book and cannot count the tears I have shed since beginning it. It has made me want to start my own Non-profit for the homeless in my town, I just have to figure out how to do that. I may not have alot, but I know I am much more fortunate that others out there. Thanks for the “In Your Face” reality check.Paige OwnbeyStatesboro,Ga

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing Paige! Richard is such a good and caring guy. I wish you the best with your efforts to help the homeless!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03509950510595674109 donhamilton

    Thanks to Daylle for this blog. Richard, you are such an inspiration. Give a pet to Willow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Richard really is an inspiration. Thanks for stopping by Don!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10444310327998064861 Mark

    Did you ask if he ever has found C,. his friend with the Armadillo?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    No, I didn't ask that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18429595085190080077 Aimee

    I am the 21 year old grand-daughter of richard LeMieux Sr. He was married to a woman that he had 3 kids with left her. His next "wife" they never got married they lived together. in 98 his business slowly started to fail, but he didnt realize it. He never followed through with his promises, and he never was there for any of his family. Said he was but was not his book is made up of full lies… and I am truely sorry that anyone who reads his book and hojnestly feels that its a true story…he didnt have two homes he didnt have two boats, he didnt have two cars, he had his van, he didnt once mention in the book about me, I think he talks about willow going to mc donalds and him out to eat breakfast well I was there, I went with him. then we would go to the park… Y aknow did he ever mention the going to Azteca? he still forgets things… Wich is understandable he is an elder now…But when you promise things to someone, coming to see me sending me money helping me out with is great grand child he just tells me to call the homeless shelter but says he helps out his family and we all abandoned him….. NO everyone left his failing company and him because he was not giving anyone any money. ya his kids all worked for him, got shot down… never got money all had families to care for and he was supposed to be paying them every month but didnt……that is why they all left him.Someone who is not even willing to help his own famly members…. but sits there and promises over and over and over again, and never does it. its sadHere is a little story for ya, The other day he was in urbana Oh, (his hometown) I went down to see him. well he had his "friend (AKA GIRLFRIEND) and I was talking to him, and then all these people showed up. someone he hs known for 21 years someone his own blood he couldnt even introduce but he introduced his friend…. I am 8 months pregnant… walking around in the rain and cold waiting to just give my grandpa a HUG I had to get in line to just say good bye to him… its pretty sad… we were then suposed to get together but he spent all his spare time with his other grandchildren who were mentioned in the book makay and kyler.. who me only met for the first time, like 5 years ago. and they are now 9 and 12… so you do the mathHOnestly…. Its pitiful…. And I felt the truth needed to be put out there…..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    I'm sorry to hear this Aimee and can feel your pain. I can only go by what I'm told. I interviewed him b/c of his book and what his publisher sent me. It's such a shame to hear this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18429595085190080077 Aimee

    Yes I know for sure it is very dissapointing to hear… My father is the same way his son. They both lie. Its a book yet a good book but poorly writtin with saddening things.I just feel that him lying about it is very upsetting to me, and to see everyone so "gung-Ho" about the book its like.. If any of these people knew the book was made of mostly lies. Ive read some other things peole have posted about "us" (his family) its upsetting to hear tem say why would his family leave him, and its just like, UM> we didnt. he abandonded his family didnt follow through. nothing suddenly dissapeared impossible. it started in 98 ANyways… if you wanted to speak for privatly you can e-mail me at allthebest.55@gmail.comagain I dont mean to bash him Just feel the truth needs to be put out there…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13451222605891945783 kat

    I just finished Breakfas at Sally's for the third time. It gets better every time. It makes me gratefull for what we do have.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Amen Kat! He is inspiring!

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