Residents across the Saanich Pensula region are mourning the death of Robert Schram, whom most simply knew as Mr. Beads for his artwork.
News of his death, shared widely on social media, sparked an outpouring of sympathies. The most visible expression appeared just outside the Sidney Museum and Archives where a memorial includes flowers and a card. Standing at the centre of this memorial is Schram’s old chair where he beaded, a photograph, flowers and an old red baseball cap – resting in place of its former occupant.
A longtime friend said Schram died Saturday afternoon of unknown causes in the home where was staying, adding that police are not treating the death as suspicious. Schram was said to be 57 and close to celebrating another birthday, according to his friend.
Originally from Ontario, Schram has had a history of institutionalization and addiction, having lived most of his adult life on the streets with stays in Toronto and Vancouver before coming to Sidney some nine years ago, where he also lived for most of the time on the streets, before finding shelter.
If Schram found himself living on the margins of society at large, he was nonetheless a part of Sidney’s community, striking up conversations and forging friendships through his beading, which could earn him $300 and up per design, as he told the Peninsula News Review in an interview from 2016. “I do anything, anything anybody asks me, all different types of pictures,” he told the PNR at the time.
That community of friends now mourning Schram’s death includes Mary Isitt, who had been working with others to get him into housing since she found him very sick at the end of November.
“We just managed to get him into a boarding house in Sidney just before the last snow storm,” said Isitt, who last month cited Schram’s personal struggles as an illustrative example of the larger issues facing the homeless in the community.
“Our homeless population is here to stay and we need to come up with rapid solutions to provide them with shelter and other necessary support,” she said in a letter to council.
Isitt, who kept an eye on Schram for the last two years, described him as a person who was pleasant to everyone.
This appreciation of Schram’s humanity appears widespread. “In spite of his challenges, he tried hard to be positive,” wrote Nichole Bengtsson on Facebook. “He always did say hi and he was part of our community.”
Standing near the memorial, Isitt said a lot of people looked out for Schram.
“Such a good soul,” she said. “Hopefully, he has gone to a better place.”
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