Former Real Change vendor James French passed away in June 2021. He was 56.
French, also known as Frenchie, was a longtime vendor who sold the paper near the Rite Aid in Belltown. That’s where Stephanie Hessen met him.
“He knew so many people, and selling Real Change was his pride and joy,” Hessen said in an email. “Always at work and making friends.”
French worked in construction for decades, mostly union carpentry jobs. The work took a toll on his body, as did various chronic illnesses, causing him to drop out of the trade, according to a vendor profile from 2009.
In a filmed interview, he described how a series of life events including health and relationship troubles caused him to fall into financial issues, which ended in his homelessness. He eventually saved up and purchased a recreational vehicle.
The transition wasn’t easy for French, but he came to appreciate his new line of work.
“I’ve worked really hard most of my life, so it was really hard for me to sell the paper, to be honest with you,” French told a writer for Real Change in 2009. “But I like the conversation and talking with people. Now I’m proud to sell [Real Change], because it has helped me in a forum without limitations, which other situations don’t allow a person to do.”
French was close with fellow Real Change vendor David Dunn. The pair got to know each other over drinks at The 5 Point Café, and maintained their friendship over the course of years. They had wild times — French often drank to excess, Dunn said — but they also would help older women carry their bags from Rite Aid to their cars.
That was the thing about French, friends said — he lived hard, but he gave back, too. Hessen recalled how he helped her and her significant other furnish their living space. In a 2014 Dayton Daily News article, writer Michael Fox described how French would make an annual contribution to Seattle Children’s Hospital, even while he was sleeping rough.
“I donate to the Children’s Hospital because, one, I don’t have any. And, two, they give me lots of inspiration,” Fox quoted French. “Hopefully I can do what little bit I can to take their mind off whatever their issues are with their health.”
French is remembered by his friends at Real Change and will be missed.
Read more of the Feb. 16-22, 2022 issue.