For Lawrence Peterson, the redevelopment of his Mount Vernon neighborhood was every bit as much of a calling as his 20 years in the U.S. Navy.
As friends and neighbors paid tribute to the "Mayor of Mount Vernon" on Sunday evening, they recalled a man so passionate about their area of the city that he would drop in to invite neighbors over or nudge them to clean up their front stoops.
The community leader died Friday, two years after he was critically injured in a shooting near the Belvedere Hotel on the first block of East Chase Street, where he lived with his husband, Tom Sabia.
Around 100 neighbors had a 30-minute memorial at Mount Vernon Place and then walked to a cookout in front of his home, a tribute to the stoop parties he loved to throw.
Eric and Christine Evans moved to their St. Paul Street row home from Massachusetts 12 years ago, planning to spend a few years in Baltimore, where Eric was working. The couple is still living there, which they credit to Peterson.
"Why would we ever want to live in Boston," Christine Evans said, "when we could live here?"
Lance Humphries gestured to the Washington Monument, surrounded by scaffolding for restoration, and said he was glad Peterson got to see the project begin.
"He loved what is going on behind us, because it is symbolic of the rest of the neighborhood," Humphries said.
A new awning or flower box could excite Peterson and prompt a whole conversation about the area's renaissance, Humphries said. "Everyone should leave their parlor light on," was his mantra. "It makes the neighborhood look more inviting."
Being Peterson's friend meant receiving regular phone calls, rounding up folks for an upcoming City Hall meeting or an impromptu beer, friends said.
John "Rob" Robertson, of Butchers Hill, remembered 2 a.m. Budweisers on Peterson's front steps and the "crazy-ass stories" he would tell.
"You were pulled into the gravity of his personality," Robertson said.
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