A friend of mine has died. I know a lot of people, but have so few friends. Recently when I was in the hospital with heart surgery, Dinh Van Phuong came to see me. He brought fruit and friends. When I got home from the hospital, Phuong came to visit, again bearing fruit.
The next week I invited him to lunch at a restaurant. I told the waitress ahead of time that I would pay. When we left, I found that Phuong had gone in the back and paid the owner.
Phuong was a refugee from Vietnam. He had been tortured and shot, before escaping and coming to America.
When I met him, Phuong lived at the intersection of San Jacinto and Peak Streets. He was called “The Mayor of San Jacinto Street” and was featured on the cover of Dallas Life Magazine. Several other stories were written about him over the years.
Phuong received the Governor’s Volunteer award for his service to refugees in East Dallas. In the 1980s, he volunteered at the East Dallas Storefront and was often the first one to visit new refugees in the neighborhood, bringing food, clothing and advice.
Phuong allowed no crime in his neighborhood. He galvanized new refugees to fight it and was known to chase criminals with a switch. Despite the grim stories told about the refugees in East Dallas, there was little crime and the people were happy.
If someone was sick or if there was a death in the family, Phuong came to help.
He had a heart valve replaced at Parkland Hospital. They used a valve from a pig. Unfortunately, it had a limited life. He went back to Parkland for a second valve, only this time it didn’t work so well.
He continued to help people, even though he couldn’t devote as much time as before to assisting others. He only slept four hours a night and tired easily.
Phuong loved Dallas. He had a very strong work ethic, even though after his second surgery he could no longer work. He berated people who went on welfare when it wasn’t necessary. Phuong was particularly upset with all the social organizations supposedly helping refugees.
“They spend all their time writing reports, instead of helping people,” he would say.
After seven years of planning, the Asian Market has opened at Bryan and Peak. The purpose of the market is to allow people that grow vegetables at the garden at Fitzhugh and Bryan to sell their harvest. I think it would be a wonderful idea to name it the Dinh Van Phuong Market and I am going to work to see if it can happen.
Goodbye my friend. You are four years younger than me. If only there were more like you.
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