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An Act of Kindness Without Fanfare

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You read plenty about today’s greedy, indifferent professional athletes who trample public sensibilities with their reprehensible conduct.

This is not about one of those athletes.

This is about one who cared.

Reuben Droughns, a former football star at Anaheim High and the University of Oregon, didn’t make some splashy hospital visit for the television cameras. Nor did he sign a check to sponsor a theme-park trip for hundreds of kids he would never meet.

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He couldn’t do that anyway, yet. A third-round pick by the Detroit Lions in the April draft, Droughns is still negotiating a contract. He’s not flush with cash and has a 19-month-old daughter, Bernadette, to support.

But he saw someone in need and helped out.

Rose Greer, a short, pudgy, middle-aged woman with weathered features, wears her short, dark hair parted neatly down the middle. There are hints of gray. She writes poetry and is taking a night class at Los Angeles City College to learn about real estate.

Greer is also homeless, one among an estimated 40,000 homeless people on any given night in Los Angeles. Unless those 40,000 can squeeze into one of the 8,602 shelters or short-term housing units in the city, or find some other accommodation, they have to sleep where they can. According to Rose Schwartz of the Shelter Partnership of Los Angeles, 20% of those homeless are women.

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Originally from Philadelphia--"I came out to Los Angeles a year ago but I don’t want to say why."--Greer makes her way by offering to wash windshields for spare change. One of her better spots is a 7-Eleven store in West Los Angeles, within spitting distance of Beverly Hills.

She was standing in front of the store on a crisp June night when Droughns and his cousin, Dave Monday, drove up.

“I said, ‘Clean your windows for some change?’ ” Greer said. “And Reuben said ‘You don’t have to clean my windows.’

“He asked if I was hungry. I said, ‘Sort of.’ He said, ‘Come in the store with me.’ ”

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Droughns bought Greer a couple of sandwiches, some soft drinks and cupcakes, spending about $20. Then he gave her $100 out of his pocket.

“He kept going on and on,” Greer said. “I said ‘I don’t want to take advantage of you.’ He said, ‘Don’t be silly.’

Then Droughns, after asking if Greer was cold, took off his jacket and put it around her shoulders. The jacket, a gift to Droughns from a fellow Oregon athlete, bears the school’s name.

“When we left [the store], I tried to take it off and give it back,” Greer said. “And he said, ‘That’s for you, Rose. I want to give you that coat to remember me.’

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“I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘I don’t need the coat to remember you. I’ll never forget you.’ It’s such a beautiful coat. It’s water repellent and warm and everything. I treasure it.”

After the encounter, Droughns went his way, never mentioning his generosity to anyone.

Greer called a reporter and explained what happened. She said she’d written a letter to the Lions, hoping it would get to Droughns, to say thanks.

When contacted, Droughns said he believes in helping people if he can.

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“I figure if I have something that someone needs a lot more than I do, I give it to them,” he said. “If I lose something, I usually don’t look for it. Somebody who retrieves it may need it more than I do. I’ve always been that way.”

Southland football fans may remember Droughns’ outstanding prep career. In three varsity football seasons at Anaheim High, he rushed for 4,915 yards and 49 touchdowns. He graduated as the second-leading rusher in Orange County history.

After two years at Merced College, Droughns went on to Oregon and, in two injury-racked seasons, amassed 2,058 yards, the sixth-highest total in school history.

In the Duck’s 24-20 Sun Bowl victory over Minnesota at El Paso, Texas, on New Year’s Day, Droughns ran for 95 yards, even though he missed most of the second half because of leg cramps.

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The display of character was no surprise to Mike Bellotti, Droughns’ coach at Oregon.

“I know Reuben grew up in a tough environment and I think he has an appreciation for those who have less,” Bellotti said. “He always sees the positive, always has a smile on his face. He was great for our program because of his attitude and commitment to things.”


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