Wednesday, February 1, 2012
NAME: Oterius "Sandy" Bell
TITLE: Matchmaker, Chattanooga's "Flower Man"
He’s been dubbed the Midnight Matchmaker, the Midnight Florist or simply, The Flower Man. But while Bell has been spreading flowers and love throughout Chattanooga for more than 20 years, he’s had his fair share of hard knocks. Homeless for more than 13 years, he survived on the blossoms he sold late night in downtown restaurants and bars, eventually securing an apartment. Despite a recent colon cancer diagnosis, Bell takes it one day at a time and continues to count his blessings, hoping that everything will – as it always has in the past – turn up roses.
❖ As soon as I graduated high school I walked right down the aisle into the recruiter’s car. Didn’t waste no time. I was in a special unit in the Marines. There were just 17 of us and we mainly traveled to Central America, visited quite a few countries. Swift, silent and deadly was our motto. We’d sneak behind enemy lines, get information and come back. Jumping out of helicopters and all that stuff. Very adventurous.
❖ It’s been 20-something years since I got out of the service but I’m still hoping to go to school. I’d love to study small engines and mainly I just love literature. I love school.
❖ After I got out of the service Uncle Sam acted like he didn’t know me, you know. That’s when I just found a flower. I was walking along, picked up a flower and a lady asked to buy it. By me being a handyman, I’d work for flower shops and instead of them paying me they would give me flowers. That’s where it all started. I’ve been going downtown ever since. That was 1982.
❖ Seems like time just really fly – seem like I just started doing this yesterday. I really can’t fathom all the time that’s passed. I just take it one day at a time.
❖ I just count my blessings I must say. Most of all I can’t thank the people downtown enough. They the ones that keeps me smiling, keeps me going. They my second family I like to think. When I walk through there it’s amazing the support, people look forward to seeing me. I love them and they love me.
❖ I’ll be downtown and people will say, "Sandy, you’re the reason me and my wife are together; I gave her my first flowers from you," and that just makes me feel real good. A lot of couples will say, “Sandy thanks to you we’re together,” and that’s just overwhelming.
❖ A couple of years ago I found out I had a daughter. She found me by looking on the computer. I guess there aren’t too many folks named Oterius. It was a miracle because all my life I was told I couldn’t have kids.
❖ Valentine’s Day is the magic day, oh definitely. I’ll be dressing in my red… I love red. Valentine’s Day is a very special day downtown.
❖ Over the years I’ve learned flowers never let you down. They always make me happy. Then when I pass them out downtown some people say how they wasn’t feeling well or had a bad day and I brightened it up. I really enjoy hearing that.