He was a father, an uncle, a brother, and a friend to those in need.
Troy claimed famous friends such as Oprah Winfrey and Mike Ditka, and others on the streets of Chicago who forever will remain nameless.
As China Thomas, Troy’s niece, said, “He had a big heart and paid it forward.”
He was a man of kindness, simplicity and strength, according to his close friend and mentor, Peter Kadens, chairman of StreetWise and founder of SoCoreEnergy.
“He resurrected his life,” Kadens said of Troy, who had persevered through a debilitating stroke that left him blind in his left eye and partially paralyzed in his left leg.
In the early 2000s, Troy was homeless—but that was before the fateful, rainy day when he met Kadens.
On April 28, 2008, Troy’s life changed .
It was 7:30 a.m. and Kadens noticed Troy, waiting in the rain for the StreetWise office to open.
Kadens invited Troy into his car for warmth and to talk.
They talked for the next 45 minutes about both their lives, sharing stories and experiences.
“His story is one of misfortune and of being unlucky related to health,” Kadens recounted.
Troy didn’t drink or do drugs. He simply fell hard through the cracks over the years.
Kadens felt an inner urge to help and remembered his favorite quotation: “The biggest gap in the world is the gap between ‘I should’ and ‘I did.’ ”
He encouraged Troy to keep working and get an apartment and pay all of his bills.
And Troy promised himself that he wasn’t going to get kicked out of the apartment for not paying the rent.
Over time, Troy wanted more independence. But Kadens still has affectionate memories of times they shared.
He recalled Troy’s love of storytelling and good food. Troy had his own formula for a great meal.
“First you put the butter in it,” he would bellow to Kadens.
“He sure knew how to cook pot roast and black-eyed beans,” Kadens laughed.
In addition to good eating, Troy loved Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Bible.
Troy, or Prophet Benjamin as he was called at his church, True Temple of Solomon at 71st and Halsted, went to services every Sunday and was responsible for the opening prayer.
Church meant community and family to Troy. He would meet his sister and China, his niece, and his brothers and sisters there.
He grew up in the tough world of the Henry Horner Projects with his nine siblings, one of whom died as a baby. Life was tough from beginning to end.
Troy was once an orderly at a retirement home, a place where he, due to pride and independence, swore he’d never end up.
He was also a laborer at an antique store.
According to Greg Pritchett, StreetWise director of distribution and vendor services, “Troy was a hard-worker and was dressed really nice.” Pritchett said that Kadens put up a website called www.savetroy.com and was able to raise $15,000 for Troy, plus an additional $20,000 in goods.
Troy worked hard on the streets of Chicago. He had a son and daughter. Their mother died years ago.
China said that her uncle embodied endurance and inspiration.
Yet he had humor too, she said.
She reminisced about one day as a child when she and her cousin, Sparkle, played a prank on him.
“Sparkle told him that her grandmother wanted three packs of cigarettes, and when he returned with them, my grandmother said that she didn’t ask for that.”
He loved his family and Peter Kadens’ family and the people of Chicago, on and off the streets.
Troy died in his sleep on January 29 at the age of 58. He had suffered from heart disease.
But it could not kill the memories his big heart left with his many friends.
“He embodies the StreetWise story, which is that everybody deserves a second chance and the people who take advantage of that second chance can do remarkable things with their lives,” Kadens concluded.
When you walk down Michigan Avenue to the Water Tower and listen well, you can still hear Troy’s boisterous calls and singing and praise of the day, calling one and all to buy his beloved StreetWise.
By Andrew Miller