'Pigeon Lady' lived a simple life

Mildred Veasley Upshaw chose a life without walls.

She lived on the street, lately camping at the curb on Columbus' Cherry Avenue. She bought Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch at the Mr. B's liquor store down the road. She fed birds from the seed bags she got with her groceries at the Lewis Jones on 13th Street. She got nicknamed the "Pigeon Lady."

Her simple life ended Tuesday morning when she died of hypothermia, and that sad news has prompted people to call the newspaper and the coroner to ask what they can do, and when her funeral will be.

It will be 4 p.m. Saturday at Sconier's Funeral Home at 836 Fifth Ave., where visitors will be given 2 minutes to share a memory of Upshaw's life. Her family has asked that in lieu of flowers, folks wanting to contribute something make a donation to a local homeless shelter.

Four days after her death, Upshaw turned a year younger — her family correcting authorities' earlier reports that she was born in 1927. The family says she was born Oct. 31, 1928, in Waverly Hall, so she died at age 79, not 80.

At the funeral home downtown today, cousins Charles Veasley, Susie Cook and Racell Cook have been greeting visitors paying their final respects to the homeless woman, whose body lay in a casket flanked by a vase full of roses and a cage containing two white doves. Visitation hours are noon to 6 p.m.

"She lived the way she wanted to live," said Racell Cook. Upshaw chose to roam, stubbornly refusing relatives' offers to help her find a home, she said. Despite her odd choices, she had no mental illness, Racell Cook said: "No more mental illness than the rest of us have."

Among those stopping by were three workers from Lewis Jones, where along with bird seed Upshaw bought her meat, charcoal and firewood. Debbie Wyatt, Lou Botts and Courtney Smith said other customers have been asking about Upshaw.

"You can't imagine how many hearts she's touched," Wyatt said. "She's like a part of Georgia."

Like others who got to know Upshaw, they said she always refused offers of food, money or blankets.

Coroner Bill Thrower came by to give Racell Cook the Bible he'd found at Upshaw's campsite. The book was in a blue, zippered casing. Inside its cover were three $1 bills.

What remained of Upshaw's other possessions still lay scattered at the curb on Cherry Avenue, where four bundles of flowers were braced against a tree to which was tacked a wooden sign that read: "We'll miss you, Ms. Mildred. Your Lewis Jones Family."