Stuck Inside, the ‘Mayor’ of the UWS Is ‘Keeping Love Alive’

Theo Dixon. Photograph by Phillip Leeds circa 2016.

By Phillip Leeds

Theo Dixon is a living legend, a 96-year-old, honorably discharged WW II Marine veteran, a native New Yorker, and a staple of Columbus Avenue. He has been “keeping love alive” on the Upper West Side since 2004, by continuously inspiring people to “make it better.” Before the pandemic, Theo made it his duty to be out on the avenue every morning, greeting the children on their way to school and letting them know that he is “depending on them” and that they are the future, spreading the message of love as only he can. Now, a serious and persistent foot problem keeps him in a wheelchair inside. Still, Theo has lived more than many of us could ever hope to and has done it completely on his terms.

In 1942, seeking adventure, 17-year-old Theo volunteered to serve in World War II. He quickly found himself fighting two wars, encountering extreme racism for the first time in his life within the ranks of the U.S. military, while combating the Imperial Japanese army in the South Pacific at the same time. Honorably discharged on December 28, 1945, Theo came back to New York City where he quickly established himself as a fixture on Sugar Hill, in the Heart of Harlem. Never content to stay in one place, he constantly explored the city and hit the highways, always seeking adventure. He attended City College and several other schools, earning degrees in early childhood education, psychology, and sociology. He worked for the New York City Environmental Protection Agency during the Lindsey administration, and went on to sell commodities.

A portrait of Theo done by Michelle Hill in 2013, for an article in WSR.

I met Theo 11 years ago, one Saturday morning, on a walk with my newborn son Theodore. As I walked to the corner of 71st Street and Columbus Avenue, I heard a gruff, commanding voice, “Is that Theodore?” I was caught off guard, as we had just started to bring the baby outside and how could this stranger know my child’s name? It turns out that Theo had met him with our nanny the day before and that he and my son were “cosmically connected because they shared the same name” and that “Theodore means gift from God.” Over the years, we have become great friends and Theo has shared endless amounts of knowledge and history with me. I feel very fortunate that he has chosen me to be his confidant. He has been been featured numerous times here in the West Side Rag, and has been NY1’s New Yorker of the Week for being such a positive beacon of light and love to all who pass him. He is widely known as the “Mayor” of the Upper West Side.

Theo has been doing his best to maintain during the pandemic, but has been missing his daily dose of children and dogs, who are his self-described medication. Being outside was a lifeline for Theo, who thrives on the art of conversation. Please keep him in your thoughts, and if you can send a little something his way, it will be most appreciated. The cost of living on the UWS is high, especially for someone on a fixed income with medical problems. Theo is a very proud person and would never ask, but I know finances worry him. If you have ever crossed his path you certainly know he has earned our gratitude and love.

I established a GoFundMe campaign in Theo’s name, which can be found here:

www.gofundme.com/f/keeping-love-alive-for-theo-dixon

Also, and maybe even more meaningful to him, those who know Theo and those who don’t — especially children — can send cards and letters to him — by snail mail — at Theo Dixon, c/o West Side Rag, 50 West 72nd Street, Suite C6, New York, N.Y. 10023

Make it better!

COLUMNS | 16 comments | permalink
    1. Diane says:

      Thank you for running this story. I haven’t seen Theo in months and was a little worried.

      On those occasions when I offered Theo a cup of soup or a treat from The Muffin Cafe he sometimes pointed out that he hadn’t asked, he wasn’t begging. He’s a proud man.

    2. Sarah says:

      Thanks for drawing attention to this fundraiser. It’s important to remember that these are the kind of people who some think we don’t “need” in Manhattan, who have “no right to live here” if they can’t pay exorbitant rents.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        Thank you a Sarah. Commenters say that so often, and it is so hurtful.

      • Ll says:

        Who has said this? And how did an article about a man who brings joy to people’s lives lead to a comment scolding people for not wanting affordable housing built?

        Regardless. I love the article. Thank you.

      • Frank Grimes says:

        Can we please stop this narrative that UWS’rs are some sort of intolerant entitled monsters. There are plenty of neighborhoods I would consider FAR more pretentious. Ive lived on the UWS for many years, an no one Ive ever met would care if 1000 kind hearted seniors ( who served their country ) like Theo moved in tomm. This mans story is proof that not only would they be welcomed, but they are treasured.

    3. Lisa says:

      Theo always raised my self-esteem at least 8 notches every time I walked by him. I was amazed to learn he is in his 90’s. Total inspiration and class act.

    4. lynn says:

      This is an amazing story, thank you for posting it! I followed the link to the previous article where Theo mentioned he lived at the Hamilton House. Isn’t there an organization for seniors or veterans that can assist him in getting an aide so he can go outside again?

    5. Bobby says:

      I know I’m home when I see Theo chillin’ at Muffin’s Cafe in the morning; saying hi to the kids and the passersby.

      Wishing Theo all the best. If he ever needs any assistance getting around the neighborhood with his wheelchair I would be happy to help.

      Bravo job on this write up, Phillip. Thank you

    6. Ian Alterman says:

      I have known Theo for over 25 years. I met him when I was on the Executive Board of the 20th Precinct Community Council, and he was the representative for the West 71st Street Block Association. He was extremely active – feisty – on behalf of his block, and the entire neighborhood, always wanting to improve it, even when things were good. We became close partly because both of us are Leos (I call him Theo the Leo).

      When I left the Council, I began seeing him at his spot at the Muffin Cafe, “holding court” and “spreading the love.” I hung out with him regularly, and then life got in the way, and I only saw him occasionally.

      I was fortunate to catch him on his birthday this year outside the Muffin Cafe, when he came to hang out, assisted by a neighbor. The flow of well-wishers was constant for about two hours. He is much-loved, and deservedly so.

      Theo is nothing less than a local – and arguably national – treasure. I hope he heals soon, and lives to be at least 100.

    7. chuck d says:

      Nice article. I don’t know this man, but I’m happy you’re looking out for him.

    8. EGF says:

      I will happily help support this United States veteran! Thank you for your service Theo!

    9. Thank you for writing this and sharing the story
      of such a wonderful man.
      I will post this on the @one block UWS Facebook page and our newsletter .
      If someone came over to take him outside would that work? I know a friend who has been a long-time resident of that building.

      • lynn says:

        That sounds like a wonderful idea. 🙂

        But also, if Theo is a veteran then doesn’t the DAV provide some kind of services to help him get around?

    10. Jen says:

      Theo is the sweetest. I look forward to seeing him out on Columbus again soon. First met him outside the Muffin shop probably a decade ago. What a gentleman.
      And thanks for reminding us all of his good work and kind spirit. Every community she be so lucky to have a Theo. Hoping the fundraiser helps give him a little cushion during these very challenging times!

    11. Baseballbeauty says:

      Love Theo! He has brightened up many of my mornings and I miss seeing him to chat with on the bench at the Muffins Cafe. I have been thinking about him a lot lately.Thank you for this update and for setting up the Go Fund Me.