FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Arnold Abbott, also known as Chef Arnold, fed the homeless in Fort Lauderdale for nearly three decades and advocates for the homeless worldwide took notice. His life as an activist with his Love Thy Neighbor organization started after his beloved wife, Maureen A. Abbott, died.
He started feeding the homeless in 1991 and continued even after local authorities threatened to put him in jail for it. City ordinances made it illegal to distribute free food on the beach. It didn't look good for tourists to bump into the homeless and it also didn't look good when Abbott ended up in handcuffs.
With a publicity nightmare in their hands, it would have been easier for authorities in Fort Lauderdale for Abbott to just stop, but he didn't. He lived until he was 94 years old. He didn't demand posthumous praise, but on Friday night the city he had filed lawsuits against released a short eulogy.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean J.Trantalis said the city was saddened by the news of his death.
"He was a courageous individual and a champion for the underserved," said Trantalis, a Democrat who was elected mayor last year after serving as a commissioner from 2009 to 2017.
That was the sort of praise Abbott, a former U.S. Army infantryman who was awarded two Purple Hearts, needed from authorities. He moved to Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s and after he started his activism there he was arrested four times and threatened with jail time and fines.
The former delegate to the Democratic National Convention understood politics, and he was persistent. He filed lawsuits against the city. He had defied authority before. The Massachusetts native traveled to Mississippi to register African-American men to vote and told stories about having to do so in the '60s under pressure from racist police and members of the KKK.
Abbott, a poet who published "On A Poetic Life" in 2012, didn't just want to feed the homeless. He wanted to end homelessness and the Congressional Hunger Center and the National Coalition for the Homeless took notice. They gave him the 2014 Advocate for the Year award during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Some city officials had viewed Abbott as a publicity nightmare, but not Trantalis, who also said Abbott's "generosity, compassion, and selfless efforts to assist the most vulnerable members of our community left an indelible mark on our city and led us on a path to a brighter tomorrow."
Abbott's organization suffered last year when two people stole from them and he needed about $10,000 a month to continue to feed the homeless regularly. His volunteers were still searching for donors when they learned Friday that he was dead and didn't want honors or a funeral.
Abbott is survived by his daughters Tara Abbott, Pam Trimble and his sons Robert Abbott and Andrew Abbott.
Social media posts
The Florida activist community has lost a great one.
Thank you Arnold Abbott for your selfless work feeding the hungry. You will continue to be an inspiration to us all. pic.twitter.com/KAoFbYMOow — 🎭 Coco Pazzo 🎭 (@CocoPazzo) February 22, 2019
RIP Chef Arnold Abbott, founder of Love Thy Neighbor, WWII Vet and Public Enemy #1 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for feeding the homeless on the Beach for 20 years. #HomelessLiveMatter #Homelessness #LoveThyNeighbor #RipChefArnold https://t.co/9ccuvN8sF3 — The Dude Dean (@TheDudeDean) February 22, 2019
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