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Originally published May 10, 2010 at 8:24 PM | Page modified May 10, 2010 at 9:05 PM

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Vendor beloved figure in Seward Park

Robert Hansen, a longtime Real Change vendor outside the PCC in Seward Park, died April 28.

Seattle Times staff reporter

On the wall of the PCC in Seward Park is a memorial to a man who wasn't rich or famous, but was simply a beloved presence at the Seattle store for years.

"Robert, thank you for always petting Lola while I shopped, so she wouldn't bark. You were such a comfort to us. You will be missed."

"It's hard to imagine this PCC front door without that familiar shuffle and growl. Robert we will miss your unmistakable presence."

Outside the store is a growing mountain of flowers, all dedicated to the man who sold the Real Change newspaper there, and lived in his truck.

Robert Hansen, a Real Change vendor since 1995, died April 28. He was 58.

Mr. Hansen spent his final years homeless, and had four children with two wives but was not involved in their lives. He is most fondly remembered by people he saw at PCC.

Found dead in his pickup, his family doesn't know his cause of death. But he had been hospitalized earlier in the week for internal bleeding and had just been discharged with orders for bed rest, said his mother, Ruby Jones.

Mr. Hansen was featured in a 2009 Associated Press story about health-care overhaul and said his annual income was $12,000 and he had no insurance.

Mr. Hansen said he had been homeless since 1994 and told the reporter last year that the tingling in his feet and the purplish color of his hands worried him, but it had been so long since he'd had a thorough physical exam that he wasn't sure if his symptoms could mean a serious health problem.

Deb Koon, walking out of the PCC store Monday, said it was strange not to see Mr. Hansen peddling his papers.

Once, Koon said, she tried to buy a paper but he told her he'd already sold her that week's paper and she should wait for the new one. Once when she didn't have change, he offered to give her a paper.

It's hard, she said, "coming here without him standing out there."

Jennifer Hellman, the PCC store manager, said Mr. Hansen had been selling papers outside her store for almost a decade.

"Robert was as much a staff member as anyone else," Hellman said. "He would bring shopping carts in for us when we were busy, he saved rocks to give to kids who came in with their parents and he dog-sat. He was an ambassador for us."

Hellman said PCC wants to donate money to Real Change to sponsor a newsroom in his name when it moves to Pioneer Square.

Born in Seattle and raised in Rainier Valley, Mr. Hansen graduated from Rainier Beach High School. He spent 15 years hawking food at the Kingdome, a job his mother said he loved.

"He was a good-hearted kid, always kind to people," Jones said.

Tess Thomas, who raised Mr. Hansen's son, Robert Junior, after he was taken away from his mother because of neglect, said the boy was able to reconnect with his father though Ruby Jones.

"You could not find a kinder, more gentle person than Robert Hansen Senior," she said. "When Robert didn't hear from his dad he always knew he could find him at the PCC."

She didn't know Mr. Hansen was close to death, "but people don't deserve to die alone."

The younger Hansen has appeared in a nationally televised Casey Family Foundation video about children in foster care, and the trauma these children face.

Tara Moss, vendor manager for Real Change, said Mr. Hansen "assisted me from day one. He was eager to do anything I'd ask of him and was a regular fixture in his location. What he loved to do, more than anything else, was talk to his customers and sell newspapers."

In addition to his mother and son, Mr. Hansen is survived by another son, Christopher, who lives on the East Coast and twins that he had no relationship with, Jones said.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at the Plaza outside Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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