Some people lead big, world-changing lives, their passings seismic events. Others go through the world more quietly, their departures drawing little notice.
Wesner Lefleur was in the second group, just another guy eking out a meager living in the city. Most who met him barely even saw his face. But in one narrow slice of the city, he was a legend — the taxi guy who was just about everyone’s designated driver.
This is no small service to mankind.
If you were a regular at the Twelve Bens on Adams Street and you’d had one too many on a Saturday night, you didn’t just call a cab. You called Wes. Everybody knew him here, and at the other Irish pubs in Dorchester. Few bothered with the dispatcher at USA Taxi. They went direct to the Bluetooth device permanently nestled in the Haitian immigrant’s ear.
And though he had an army of devoted customers clamoring for rides, Wes almost always managed to show up.
“He was like the magic taxi man,” said Rocky Ivers, a bartender at Centre Bar, on Dorchester Ave. “He always seemed to be available. I don’t know how he did it.”
And if Wes arrived when his devotees had been poured a fresh pint, he’d tell them to take their time. He’d wait outside, sometimes popping in to ask if it was all right to do a quick run and come back for them. It was always all right. Wes was worth the wait.
He ferried folks to homes or other bars nearby, or back to the suburbs.
“I knew while he was taking me to the South Shore, he was losing a lot of short runs,” said Sean, a Twelve Bens regular who didn’t want his last name used.
He never drove off until his passengers were in their homes. Sometimes that meant helping them inside. At every bar, there are stories of Wes returning phones or medicine that passengers had left on the back seat, driving right back to Milton or Braintree to reunite them with their owners. If people had drunk their fare, he’d tell them, “I’ll get you next time.”
“If you wanted to take a ride to New York, I think Wes would drive you to New York,” said Larry Darcy, a frequent passenger.
The bartenders and passengers knew what kind of man Wes was, but they didn’t know much about his life — his three grown kids, his dream of earning a business degree. Sean, the Twelve Bens regular, remembers talking with Wes after the earthquake in Haiti, when he fretted about his many relatives who still lived there. Mostly though, they stuck to the Celtics.
If the Irish guys knew little about Wes’s family, his family knew even less about the Irish guys, and how they valued him. Until July, when Wes went into the hospital for stomach problems, and was diagnosed with cancer. His phone kept ringing. His ex-wife Michelle Marcelin, with whom he was still close, was amazed.
“I never knew he was that popular till he gets sick,” she said. “You live with someone for years, you don’t know that person.”
She said he dedicated his life to Christ in the hospital, and promised to remarry her when he recovered, and be “the best husband I never had.”
But he died Aug. 4, at 54. Word of his death was still getting around the bars late last week. So was the news that Michelle had to delay the funeral because she can’t afford to pay for it.
“That broke my heart,” said Andrew Hebert, who manages his taxi garage. “Wes epitomizes the working guy, with not even enough left to bury himself.” Pat Nee, a bartender at the Twelve Bens, is hoping to take up a collection to help. To give herself time to find a way, Michelle has scheduled Wes’s wake and funeral for Aug. 31, at the Riley Funeral Home on Humboldt Avenue.
There, the people who knew Wes will celebrate a life neither perfect nor big, in the typical way. They will praise an unfamous man who might have passed without note, except for one thing: If you needed him on a Saturday night, he was there.Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org