MIDDLE RIVER — “Mr. Blue Eyes,” “the Walking Dude,” “That Guy” – these were the various names by which the community recognized Stanley Vingsen Jr., a man who was often seen walking alone on Pulaski Highway, the same street where he was struck and killed by a car on Sept. 18.
In a vigil held on Oct. 3, hundreds of people, while singing along to “Amazing Grace,” raised their candles to heaven in remembrance of Vingsen, and revealed that although Vingsen lived a solitary life, he had a community that truly loved and cared about him.
“It is awe-inspiring to see how much Stanley was loved by the community,” Vingsen’s sister, Ann Korns said in an interview following the vigil.
“This is overwhelming,” his brother, Frank Vingsen, said. “No words for it really. No words at all.”
Both his brother and sister were on stage at the vigil, and Hope Larson, chaplain at Baltimore County Police and Fire Department, spoke on the family’s behalf.
“He is walking tall again with that big ole’ smile and beautiful blue eyes shining,” Larson said. “Rest well with the Lord, Mr. Stanley.”
Rumors surrounded Vingsen in the time he walked Pulaski Highway, all of which were started to make sense of his ostensibly sad life, Larson said. However, she helped to quash the rumors on Sunday night.
“He was not a veteran. He was not married. He had no known children. And he was not homeless. He had a fixed address on his family’s homestead,” she said.
Perhaps the most insidious rumor was that his family did not care about him. But that could not be further from the truth, she said.
In fact, the family provided him with food, clothing and shelter, when he was willing to accept help, and they often wondered why others, particularly mental health practitioners and advocates, did not seem to care or try to help. But community members would offer help, often times only to be turned away or offered a brief conversation in return.
“I can’t remember a time when I saw someone to help him, and neither does his family, yet we stand next to one another knowing that all of us were there,” she said. “It is a testament to Stanley’s life that the family and community have come together in this moment. His story and simple presence have made the world a better place.”
The “bitter truth,” Larson said, was that Vingsen suffered from an untreated mental illness, at a time when shame and stigma in talking about it was still common. He reached a point when he no longer wanted to live, nor could he function, within a normal family setting, and this is what the community witnessed over the course of 30 years.
“Some people will try to armchair quarterback Stanley’s life and talk about what the family should or should not have done, and then there are those who are misinformed about mental illness and the difficulty families have in addressing it,” she said. “The truth is that the struggle is real for families, and today, thankfully, we have so many more resources available.”
In his 20s, Vingsen’s family identified a problem and intervened into his life to help, and he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He had started medication, was released and was living well, right up until his doctors changed his medication saying there was a chance he could develop a tic disorder from it.
Vingsen’s family looked for ways to help and tried to make sure his daily needs were met. But he retreated into solitude, and his mental condition continued to get worse over time.
“His family struggled in silence, and they tried and wanted to protect him,” she said. “But there were so many unknown obstacles.
Now the family, after carrying the burden of this alone for so many years, they want to help provide support to other families struggling through similar situations. By partnering with a nonprofit, the family has established the “Stanley Vingsen Memorial Fund,” which will be used to provide training and resources to help equip first responders to handle mental health problems.
“Lord, we thank you for the light that we now know as Stanley and for the illumination that he brought each and every one of us here,” Bob Larson, pastor at Trinity Church of Essex, said in a prayer to end the candlelight vigil. “Let the brightness that was his contribution to the world never dim but shine on forever in the hearts of us all.”