Popular Cheltenham Big Issue vendor Chris Clark, who has been described as “charming and charismatic”, has died at the age of 55.
The long-time seller, who sold the magazine outside Greggs on Cheltenham High Street, was found dead in his home on June 9.
An inquest into his death was opened and adjourned at Gloucestershire Coroners’ Court on June 28.
Chris was quite the character. He always had a good story to share
Chris, who was a double amputee, never let his injuries prevent him from being a positive influence in Cheltenham, said Wayne Ellaway, a vendor development worker at The Big Issue.
“Chris Clark was quite the character,” said Wayne. “He always had a good story to share and led a very interesting life growing up in South Africa.
“He was very charming and charismatic and never let being in a wheelchair get him down. He was always positive and very independent.
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“All the people that I’ve spoken with have spoken highly of Chris and are sad to hear of his passing.”
Tanzanian-born Chris moved to South Africa as a child because his parents “wanted him to leave high school with an internationally recognised qualification,” he told The Big Issue in an interview last year.
He presented for national service in South Africa which paved the way for a military career, including a spell in the army and the French Foreign Legion.
Chris told The Big Issue he lost his legs due to an “unfortunate incident just before my retirement from the army”.
The vendor said: “One leg was blown off straight away and efforts to save the other one ultimately failed. It was amputated at Cheltenham Hospital at Easter 2015.”
Chris moved to the UK to be closer to his family’s roots in Stow-on-the-Wold in the North Cotswolds and cared for his mother before he started selling The Big Issue on Cheltenham High Street.
With a keen interest in technology, astronomy and reading, Chris was a hit with his regular customers and spoke fondly of them in his 2020 interview.
Chris Clark was a very well-known gentleman, the “Cheltenham grandpa” if you likeA tribute from friend Byron Taylor
Chris counted university professors and people with PhDs in “esoteric subjects”, such as astronomy and micro-electronics, among his customer base and found selling the magazine an inspiring experience.
“I get a huge amount of enjoyment out of selling The Big Issue. It used to be that if I didn’t make a certain amount of money I wouldn’t be happy,” Chris said in 2020.
“Now I have an established clientele – I know who’s getting to see me, and something that started because of financial motivation has become hugely motivating socially.
“If it wasn’t for The Big Issue my mental health would have tumbled out of control.”
Chris’ friends Laura Carson and Chris Amini contacted The Big Issue to share their memories of the Cheltenham vendor. They are among a group of Chris’ friends who have launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of his funeral.
Any money left over will be donated to charitable causes close to the vendor’s heart.
“We developed a strong friendship over time. His personality was hugely, hugely intellectual. You could talk to him on deep levels about a great many subjects, such as engineering, history, science, street culture and religion,” said Amini.
“He was an extremely intelligent man so there was definitely more to him than meets the eye.”
Amini added: “The Big Issue allowed Chris to share his wonderful traits to many who had befriended him and he always spoke highly of it.
“He will be greatly loved and missed by many in Cheltenham, and to all who ever knew him. A truly wonderful man, and special person with an incredible legacy.”
Laura remarked that the late vendor was “probably the kindest friend I’ve ever had”.
She said: “He was the one who gave you the gift of all his time and attention, who seemed able to eloquently answer any question you put to him, no matter how esoteric or personal the subject matter. Chris will leave a huge gap in Cheltenham High Street and in the hearts of his friends and loved ones.”
Friends and customers have also paid touching tributes to the seller on social media and on his fundraising page.
Writing on Facebook, Byron Taylor said: “Chris Clark was a very well-known gentleman, the ‘Cheltenham grandpa’ if you like… He was an amazing man, a soldier, a hero and a gentleman. I will miss him forever… Cheers for the laughter and joy you brought to this world, Chris.”
Donna Lou Waine added: “This is so sad. He was a lovely man and always had time to talk if you had the time to listen. Never went past without having a chat. May he rest in peace!”
Give your vendor a hand up and buy the magazine. Big Issue vendors are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. But, at the same time, they are micro-entrepreneurs. By supporting their business, you can help them overcome homelessness, financial instability and other social disadvantages that hold them back.