My first encounter with Marcy Brydon Moore was frightening.
I was driving home late from work one night and stopped at a red light at Gandy and MacDill. The windows were down, the radio was on, and suddenly, there was this wild-eyed woman with missing teeth in my face, spewing some unmentionables and shaking her fist.
Heart racing, I floored the accelerator, blew through the light and drove the next eight blocks home at breakneck speed.
The next night, I recounted the story to Lynn Love, who owns a restaurant near that corner. “Oh, that was just Marcy,” he said, laughing. “She's harmless. Most of the time, she's just fine.”
After that, I wasn't afraid of Marcy, a semi-homeless woman who spent a lot of the time wandering the streets and cussing out people in our Ballast Point neighborhood in South Tampa.
But, even though I saw her frequently, I never took the time to know her. I kept my distance, even when I passed a much calmer version of Marcy in the aisle at Walgreens, or sitting outside the Taste of Boston at Ballast Point Park.
I don't know why I was so affected when I heard the news she died after being hit by a car April 8 on Ulmerton Road in Largo. I just couldn't get her out of my head; I wanted to know her story. Who was she? How did she end up like this? Did anyone love her out there?
Maybe I needed to know because we all see people like Marcy out there in our communities, and we never give them much thought. Or maybe it was because I wondered if I could have – should have – done more for her.
With the help of local business owners, neighbors and family members, I was able to piece together some of Marcy's complicated life. She left a myriad of impressions, as you would expect of a paranoid schizophrenic who wouldn't take the medication meant to control her disease. On her good days, friends knew her as thoughtful, kind, gracious smart and a quirky dresser; other times, they encountered the vulgar, unkempt, fearful, loud and accusatory side of her.
And as is usually the case, her family suffered the most. They were the ones who got the late-night phone calls from the jail when she was arrested for trespassing or disturbing the peace.
“Love and Fury: The Many Mysteries of Marcy Moore” appeared in The Tampa Tribune on April 21, the day of her funeral. About 150 people from all walks of life came to pay their respects and tell their Marcy stories.
Turns out, you were curious about her life, too.
You shared the story about 2,000 times on Facebook, and more than 100 readers sent emails. Some wrote to say how grateful they were that the pressing issue of mental illness was getting attention. Or they called with their own stories of struggles with family members.
“I'll always think, 'Could I have done more to stop her?' ” says Rex Anne Smith, a retired psychologist and longtime friend who knew and worried about Marcy's last late-night ramble to Largo.
Marcy had camped out at Smith's house in the final few days of her life. When she announced she was heading across the bridge late in the day, she paid no heed to Smith's pleas to stay put.
“The truth is, Marcy had to be free,” Smith says. “So many of us tried for so many years to help. But there came a point when it just wasn't possible.”
It will take months to complete the accident investigation. The report may not determine if Marcy intentionally stepped in front of a car, but her friends don't think so. Those who knew Marcy frequently saw her walking or riding her bike in the street, weaving in and out between vehicles. She put herself in danger all the time.
What is certain is that Marcy made a lasting impression wherever she went. And now her life, and death, will draw attention to the plight of others like her.
Her brothers, Bill and Michael Brydon, are working with the city of Tampa to place a red-metal swinging bench at Ballast Point Park where Marcy slept many nights.
Sculptor JJ Watts and her partner, Sally Parsons, friends who opened their home to Marcy, just completed one of Watts' “Attitudes” stick-figure sculptures -- a whimsical likeness of Marcy, made of plaster and PVC -- to be placed in front of one of the businesses that front MacDill Avenue south of Gandy Boulevard.
Both of these tributes will memorialize a troubled yet caring woman who touched so many hearts in this neighborhood. More important, they will serve as a reminder to not judge so quickly, and to take the time to know the people who walk among us, even if our first impression isn't favorable.
I'm sure Marcy would find all this attention amusing. But she also would see how loved she was.
I just hope she knew that when she was with us.
To read “Love and Fury,” go to TBO.com, and in the search bar, type in “Marcy Moore.”