By Barney Blakeney
An iconic symbol of Peninsula Charleston’s North Central neighborhood is missing. He died December 9. Most never knew him by name, but expected to see the dark skinned man, often shirtless, sitting on the wall at the corner of King and Romney streets during daytime hours. His name was Fletcher Sheppard, Sr. He was 70.
In a December 15 letter to the editor written to the daily newspaper by The Citadel’s psychology professor, Dr. Lloyd Taylor titled ‘Empty Space’, Fletcher’s absence was noted. Passersby got to know Fletcher from the passenger side of their cars while stopped at traffic lights at that corner, Taylor wrote. “He was invisible, yet always present,” wrote Taylor who eloquently captured that most public side of Sheppard, a brother, husband, father and friend.
Fletcher was a man of few words, said his daughter, Shantel “Chrissy” Sheppard Smith. But if he gave his word, you could count on him keeping it. Her father gave his only daughter the nickname ‘Chrissy’ in memory of a character played in the 1970s film “Get Christi Love”. Fletcher had three children – Chrissy and two boys, Fletcher Jr. and Zimran.
Fletcher was in love with his wife Sandra whom he divorced 37 years ago. Her father told Chrissy the divorce tore out a piece of his heart. It contributed to the nervous breakdown he suffered shortly after, Chrissy said, and ultimately led him to the wall at King and Romney streets, two blocks from the home he shared with his oldest sister, Marilyn.
Fletcher looked the part of a homeless, unsheltered vagrant, but he was neither. He worked for years on delivery trucks for Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola. Those who got close to Fletcher could detect his heavy breathing, a symptom of the lung disease he suffered which forced his early retirement from Coca Cola.
During his earlier life, Fletcher, the third oldest of 12 children born to Robert and Eva Sheppard, grew up in the Ansonborough Homes and Strawberry Lane neighborhoods. By the time Fletcher was 13, the family was both motherless and fatherless. With both parents deceased, Marilyn, the oldest at 21, became matriarch for the family of eight boys and four girls. In addition to her own family that included her husband and two children, she eventually would help raise Chrissy and several of her cousins. By then the family had moved to Athens Court on Romney Street.
Fletcher and his seven brothers were athletic. Melvin (Tree Top) would distinguish himself as a basketball player. Fletcher, small and sinewy, would become a boxer. Fletcher’s schoolmates remember him as a nice guy, who didn’t bother anybody. But as a young boy growing up in a struggling family, he soon found himself at John G. Richards Reformatory for Negro Boys and later Central Correctional Institute in Columbia where he earned his GED. A nonviolent offender, Fletcher always found ways to vent his frustrations. He channeled that energy into boxing, ultimately rising to become a championship boxer who opened for local Muhammed Ali boxing exhibitions.
Many of those who knew Fletcher beyond being ‘that guy who sat on the wall at the corner of King and Romney’ attended his funeral December 16. They said goodbye to a friend and loved one. They feel the emptiness in their hearts. The rest of us are reminded of our loss by the empty space on the wall.