Locals raise money to fly injured man back to Columbus

May 10, 2013 

  It was shortly before Mother’s Day last year that Selester Rowe called his family from San Francisco and told them he was doing fine. He would be home soon to see them.

On Thursday, Rowe finally made it back to Columbus, now a quadriplegic with a tracheal tube in his throat to help him breathe.

He arrived on an Angel Med-Flight Learjet that landed in front of the Flightways Columbus office at the Columbus Airport.

Family and old friends welcomed him with balloons and signs.

He was quickly put in an am bulance and transported to Azalea Trace Nursing Center.

“It’s not the best situation, but I am so glad to see him home,” said his sister Headercine Rowe Russell as she pushed the wheelchair of her mother, Willie Mae Rowe, away from the airplane.

“We think he will do better not alone but by surrounded by family.”

Rowe, 63, was the victim of a hit-and-run on the evening of May 12, 2012. Much to the chagrin of his family, San Francisco police still have not identified the driver of a white Chevrolet SUV that struck Rowe as he crossed Columbus Avenue. He suffered brain and spinal injuries, along with multiple broken bones.

At the time, the graduate of Tuskegee University, an architectural engineer and talented trumpet player who had been a drum major at Tuskegee, was homeless.

The San Francisco Examiner reported that people in the area who had become friendly with Rowe, a man who never asked for handouts and greeted people with “God Bless You,” set up a recovery fund for him. It was people back home that raised $17,400 to get him back to Columbus.

Rowe attended Spencer High School, and it was another Spencer alum, James “Monk” Johnson, who played football at Tennessee State and was drafted in 1975 by the San Francisco 49ers, who heard Rowe’s story and decided to do something to bring him home.

A year ago, Johnson retired as a food safety manager with Hostess Foods in Memphis and came back to Columbus.

“I didn’t even know the family, but it was something that needed to be done,” Johnson said. He formed a “Help Les” committee and found plenty of support, especially from other Spencer graduates. A fish fry was one way used to raise money.

Johnson said Thursday he was “speechless” by the response from the community.

“We got the money in 60 days,” he said.

“God sent us an angel named Monk Johnson,” Rowe’s sister La-Creaser Rowe Rock said, adding that the family is very thankful to all who helped.

Making a donation and helping to lead the way was Georgia State Rep. Calvin Smyre, who knows the Rowe family. He was raised in the same Washington Heights neighborhood as Rowe and his sisters.

“I remember he was a fun person, a snazzy dresser,” Smyre said. “When I got the call and heard he was homeless and about what had happened, it was all very disturbing. I began calling a lot of friends, and to see this today, it is so heartfelt. Columbus is just a giving community .”

Rock said she had not seen her brother since her daughter’s funeral in 1986. She said the family had no idea that Rowe was homeless.

“We exchanged letters,” she said, “and he never gave an indication that anything was wrong. We thought he was doing fine. He was working for a stockbroker.”

It was a social worker who told Rock about her brother’s situation.

“She said a lot of good people have lost jobs and gone downhill,” Rock said. “He is not the only one. We were devastated by the news. But that does not matter now. I am just glad to have my brother home.”

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