Happy the Artist Celebrates his 69th Birthday by Giving to Others
Happy the Artist, a Richmond Institution, has just celebrated his 69th birthday among friends who share a commitment to contribute their time and talents to the community just as he does. Charles Fishburne reports.
(Music) If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco..........
(voice) Happy, you're our favorite artist!
Happy the Artist was not in San Francisco in 1967 during the Summer of Love, but he lived the life, and at 69, is the last functioning hippie I know.
And on his 69th birthday party over the weekend, he was surrounded by the same kind of gentle people who typified the best of the counter-culture movement of the 1960s.
Earlier in the day, he was working on a mural he created for Helping Hands Veterinary Clinic on Cary Street; each pawprint has the name of someone who has given money or some animal who was given a second chance.
Happy: Well, this is the giving tree; this is the wall of perpetual kindness. All of these names up here are people who have supported Helping Hands, this vet clinic, either with volunteer time or paying money to help them pay the bills and so I just added George; they contributed 450 dollars to the clinic; they saved his dog.
George had a bone in his intestine and he was dying; another place wanted cash up front.
Joseph: It was five thousand dollars, estimate, that they had to have up front, and there's just no way for me to do that and so this morning, I spent the night last night not sleeping, beside him, thinking that I might potentially have to put him down this morning, and that was a very, very hard thing to do and I couldn't with clear conscience do that with my friends in Carytown not being able to say goodbye. And then they stepped forward, which I'm still a little emotional about.
George is gonna be okay?
Joseph: Yes. Clean bill of health.
Did you know that there was so much goodness around?
Joseph: Yes, but you don't always get to see it.
Steven Joseph and George had become inseparable since Steven found him as a puppy under his car. And they were regulars at a coffeeshop down the way. It was their friends and patrons there who raised the money to help with the costs.
Joseph: Everybody joined together and helped out, so it was just really nice, really nice, and it feels good and it's great to see George getting back to himself again.
Helping Hands Veterinary Clinic is not a non-profit, but they do help people and animals who can't afford the treatment.
Morasco: It is absolutely, without a doubt, a domino effect of kindness, you know, it's the merry-go-round of kindess, really, and I don't wanna get off. It's a fun ride.
Jacqueline Morasco is the office manager of the clinic. Steven will do community work to pay his share.
Joseph: I'll have to volunteer hours to take care of the debt.
His friends donated money for the next dog, and Happy donated his time and talent to paint the mural. It was this community that celebrated Happy's birthday, right outside the clinic. And across the yard, another one of his gifts: a rolling mural on an old school bus, converted to carry fresh fruits and vegetables peddled on city streets and some of the corners of the city where decent food is hard to come by.
Lilly: Happy painted this thing for me for nothing because he believes in it and he's just, he did it for the love and he did it for the community.
Mark Lilly sells local produce at fair prices to people who might not get it otherwise; some, he gives away.
Lilly: He knows that this thing is touching people and he knows that his artwork can help personify that even more.
Happy won a Disney contest for his art when he was 14 and never looked back. His works are all over Richmond and Virginia, and so are his gentle friends. There is a quality of mercy about the man and his bus, who, incidentally, has been interviewed by the BBC.
Or the clinic with a heart, which is scheduled to be featured on Good Morning, America.
(Many voices) Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday, dear Happy, happy birthday to you.
Or the hippie artist celebrating his 69th birthday, surrounded by friends of like spirit.
Jewell: On behalf of the city of Richmond....
Richmond City Councilman Marty Jewell.
Jewell: As you get happy and celebrate the importance of community, conscience and humanity.
Happy: It's like paying it forward, it's a spiritual bank account; the older I get, the more I realize that the rest of my days are compressed, so I've gotta maximize as much joy as possible, and the biggest payback for joy is making people happy when you say you can take your talent and go ahead and provide them with something that they could not afford otherwise.
Charles Fishburne, WCVE News
A video version of this story is available online at ideastation.org