Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Feeding Birds

"He was so kind. They were in the teens, the number of times that he got arrested."
"He would pay for his rent and food and have nothing left over for the birds. Eventually, the police stopped charging him, and they just called me directly."
"He would try to climb out of his window [at a home for the aged] to feed the birds."
Cheryl Scott, friend

"I once told him, 'Marian, you must have some friends. You should join some organization to get out, meet people. He said, 'I don't need that. I have my birds'."
"He was before the court on [several] occasions for stealing bird seed. He stole nothing else -- just bird seed."
"I'm often called upon to recall those cases that impacted me the most, and that is one of those."
"He was a gentle soul, not a malicious bone in his body."
Michael Lerner, London [Ontario] lawyer
Marian Lamprecht cuts a stylish pose on Parliament Hill in post-war Ottawa, where he lived with his late wife Stefania before moving to St. Catharines and, later, to London, Ont. Childless, and widowed, the Nazi labour camp survivor from Poland died recently at age 100.
The Free Press/Postmedia Network    Marian Lamprecht on Parliament Hill in post-war Ottawa. The Nazi labour camp survivor from Poland died recently at age 100
In his later years, the Polish-born man who had immigrated to Canada with his wife some number of years after World War II, had a friend in a woman who worked as an assistant to his lawyer, who represented him in court. Cheryl Scott originally befriended the elderly Catholic man with his sad memories of incarceration at age 17 in a Nazi labour camp, and then her relationship with him deepened.

Every week she would bring Marian Lamprecht birdseed for him to distribute to his beloved birds. By this time, he was living in a home for the aged in Strathroy, Ontario. Eventually he succumbed to dementia and she had to restrain herself from bringing seed to the man obsessed with feeding the birds because no one could restrain him from attempting to clamber out of the windows at Strathmore Lodge, the home for the aged, to feed the birds. She feared for his safety.

He died a week ago, at age 100. There was a small service in his memory at St. Peter's Cemetery, attended by Ms.Scott, her husband, and a physiotherapist who had also befriended Marian Lamprecht, at the retirement home. He was laid to rest in small-town Ontario, a man whose experience as a boy and young man never left off haunting him.

He had taken a photograph of a German soldier in his native Poland and that transgression landed him at age 17 behind barbed wire at a hard labour camp. He watched as birds flew freely beyond the wire that caged him and other prisoners, marvelling at their flight and their beauty. And he vowed during that bleak time in his life that he would never forget the birds, that if he was ever delivered from his own cage he would honour the birds, as a symbol of hope that kept him alive.

With his wife Stefania he emigrated to Canada. They lived in Ottawa and St.Catharines, Ontario, finally settling down in London, Ontario. When Stefania died thirty years ago, her husband Marian was left alone; they had no children. Back in 1967 there is an Ottawa record that he had been charged with theft under $5,000. The assumption is that it was for stealing birdseed, for that is all he ever was charged with anywhere, at any time over the years.

A dozen arrests followed over the years. In 1989 the London Free Press wrote a story about Marian Lamprecht, the 'Bird Man of London'. It was the occasion of his tenth arrest for shoplifting bird feed. The value of what he stole was $4.99, from a Valu-Mart store. He was 73 at that time, on probation for a similar conviction that had occurred five months before.

His lawyer informed the presiding judge that his client used his pension money to gas his car, using it to volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society and the CNIB. He drove patients to their medical appointments. His pension provided him with just enough to pay rent and food, leaving him nothing to feed the birds and continue to fulfill his promise. Thoughts of birds freezing on cold winter days without food haunted him.

Special to Postmedia Network
Postmedia Network   Marian Lamprecht, a Polish native forced into hard labour by the Nazis during the Second World War.

The sight of the elderly man feeding birds along the Thames River in London was one familiar to many people. An agreement was forged between the lawyer and the Crown that Mr. Lamprecht would perform 25 hours of community service as an assistant to the zookeeper at London's Storybook Gardens, feeding birds and animals.

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