Robert Belanger was an intelligent, well-spoken and thoughtful man who often wore professional attire and sported a fedora hat and neatly trimmed beard and mustache.

At first glance, one might think he was a Portland banker or lawyer. But Belanger was homeless, living in the woods and sometimes sleeping on the counter at the Rusty Lantern Market in Portland.

He died early on March 10 after being struck by a city-owned dump truck. He was 58.

Belanger walked miles around Portland every day.

He also rode the Metro bus. He had a storage unit in Westbrook and was known to sleep there on occasion. He also slept in the woods near a dog park in Portland’s West End neighborhood.

Belanger spent many nights sleeping on the counter at the Rusty Lantern Market. Josh Silver, who works the third shift, said Belanger usually showed up before midnight. He would buy a large coffee for $1.07 and sit in the dining area and listen to music. Silver said Belanger would put his backpack on the counter to use as a pillow and fall asleep.

“It’s the middle of the winter. We didn’t want him out there freezing,” Silver said. “He was always nice. He was quiet. We talked a lot. He talked about his aspirations for getting a new job. He was trying to find a new place to live. A couple of times, he helped out with rowdy customers.”

In the morning, Belanger used the market’s facilities to clean up. He had a comb and cutters to trim his beard and mustache. Silver said he usually left around 7 a.m. and said he was “going to work.”

Silver said he hadn’t seen Belanger for about a week before he was killed.

POLICE CALLED

Portland police responded to a serious motor vehicle accident at 3:46 a.m. on March 10 at 2282 Congress St., the same address as the Rusty Lantern Market.

The accident involved a city-owned commercial vehicle driven by Donald Penney, 49, of South Portland. Belanger was struck and killed while walking on Congress Street at Blueberry Road.

It’s likely Belanger was walking to the store.

In the days after news reports of the accident, little was known about his life. News outlets reported that Belanger was a transient, although he had lived in Portland for decades. Portland police had some difficulty locating his family.

Belanger’s body was transported to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Augusta, where it remained for five days. On Friday, Belanger’s body was transported to Anctil-Rochette & Son Funeral Home in Nashua, New Hampshire.

There will be a graveside service for Belanger at 10 a.m. on March 23 at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Hudson, New Hampshire.

Belanger grew up in Nashua, the third of four children. He was a son of Gerald and Lucille Belanger and a 1977 graduate of Nashua High School. He did not attend any college, university or trade school.

Belanger struggled with mental health issues for much of his life. His mother said Friday that he was schizophrenic. She said she tried many times to get him help. Belanger lived in halfway houses and with friends in his early years.

He lived in Portland for at least 25 years. In 1996, he got an apartment at 54 State St.

His mother said she used to visit him two to three times a year. Belanger would take her out to lunch and cook for her. She said her son was a great cook.

Their last visit was a good one, she said. The next day, everything changed.

“He called me. He called me all kinds of names. We were together the night before and all the sudden I’m no good? He wouldn’t talk to me. He hung up on me. It hurt a lot. It hurts when I still think about it. I think he was off his meds.”

His mother said she hadn’t talked to her son for two years.

Belanger’s older sister, Paula Bertrand of Nashua, was notified Tuesday by Nashua police that her brother had died. She also was shocked to learn he had been homeless.

Bertrand shared stories Friday of their time growing up in New Hampshire. One of her earliest memories was spending time at her parents’ camp at Shellcamp Lake in Gilmanton.

“Bobby and I were very much alike,” she said. “We would go exploring in the woods. We would take the boat out on the lake. He liked a lot of different things. We both loved music.”

Belanger was an avid reader with a wide range of interests. His sister said if he wanted to learn about something, he went to the library to read about it. He had a passion for cooking and music. He had an appreciation for literature and the arts.

For years, Bertrand drove to Portland to visit her brother over Labor Day weekend. She said he took her to the shops around the Old Port and out to eat. She said their visits were great.

“We talked a lot,” his sister said. “We never ran out of subjects to talk about.”

Bertrand said she and her brother had a falling out around Thanksgiving 2015.

By the end of that year, Belanger was evicted from his apartment and eventually became homeless.

“Unfortunately, Bobby stopped taking his medication,” Bertrand said. “He had a falling out with everyone. With Bobby … he made his own decisions. If we had known (that he was homeless), I don’t know if there’s anything we could have done about it. That’s the hard part.”

Belanger found a home of sorts in Portland’s 12-step recovery community. He was remembered by friends last week as outspoken, intelligent and articulate. He could also be edgy, fidgety and abrupt.

Kenny Brown of Portland remembered the first time he met Belanger.

“He was so buttoned up,” Brown said. “His sartorial splendor blew me away. He had on an Irish tweed jacket. His pants had a crease you could cut bread with. You could see his face in his spit-shined jet black pair of Doc Martens. I listened to him and thought, ‘Wow. He sounds like he’s got it together.’ ”

What happened next shocked Brown. He returned to his car to find Belanger sitting on a bench at the Portland Metro station with five garbage bags and a backpack. Brown offered Belanger a ride to his storage unit. At every stoplight, Belanger showed him pictures of fish aquariums he had assembled. In a bag, Brown noticed a magazine with the headline, “How gentlemen should dress.”

“We pulled up to the storage unit and Bob said, ‘I’ll be right back. I have to change into my woods clothes,’ ” Brown recalled.

Belanger told Brown he lived at the storage unit.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Brown said, recalling the drive back to Portland. “I’m sitting there with tears my eyes. He said you can drop me off here. I sleep by the dog park. He was like a teacher for me. He lived on the streets and slept by the dog park and he wasn’t drinking.”

‘HE WAS IMPECCABLE’

Friends say he charged his phone at meetings and used the bathroom to wash up and comb his hair.

“He was impeccable,” said Zoo Cain, a Portland artist and fixture in the recovery community. “He kept himself totally tailored. He could have easily been in the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly or Esquire magazine. He was really about presenting himself.”

Though it appeared that Belanger had his life together, he struggled with mental illness.

Friends say he didn’t like to be touched. He also didn’t like others in his personal space. If someone got too close, Belanger lashed out. He had a temper.

“Bob was like a character out of ‘Mad Men,’ ” Cain said. “What a dude. He was sort of like Vincent van Gogh, but not in a nice way.”

Eric Saunders, an attorney at Bernstein Shur, which provides legal services for the homeless through Preble Street, tried to help Belanger find housing. Saunders said he suggested that he go back on medication, but Belanger felt strongly against it. He was seeing a therapist on a periodic basis, Saunders said.

“He was an impressive guy,” Saunders said. “He had a full-size ego and he held his own in any discourse or conversation. He was very bright. He just didn’t fit in. He could never find a place where he was comfortable. We learned to give him a fairly wide berth. That worked for him and it worked for us. We will all miss him. He didn’t go unnoticed.”

A celebration of Belanger’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Sahara Club, 57 Ashmont St. in Portland.

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MelanieCreamer

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