"Rick Is Hustling M&Ms in Heaven": A Funeral for the Soul of the Courthouse

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On Friday, hundreds of people packed the pews at St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston to tell Rick Johnson — the man who sold candy and umbrellas outside the criminal courthouse for more than a decade — that they loved him.

It was Rick's favorite thing to say to the hundreds of people who passed by the courthouse each day, whether they were lawyers or defendants or judges, whether he really knew them or not, whether they had a buck to buy M&Ms or didn't. Over the years, he had befriended hundreds of the courthouse regulars, sometimes giving them free M&Ms, sometimes walking them to their cars with an umbrella over their head. And before he died of colon cancer December 8 — surrounded by loved ones at his bedside — those hundreds of courthouse regulars made sure to pay forward Rick's small acts of kindness, and made sure he knew that they loved him, too.

He had brightened the lives of so many people, in fact, that Mayor Sylvester Turner has decided to sign a proclamation naming December 8 Rick "Candyman" Johnson Day in Houston, as Rick's longtime friend State Representative Harold Dutton announced at the funeral in Turner's place.

During words of acknowledgement at Rick's funeral service Friday, some of Rick's dearest friends shared their favorite memories of him.

Attorney Kent Schaffer told about how Rick once got a citation for putting quarters into people's parking meters so they wouldn't get a parking ticket while they were waiting to have their day in court, and about how, once, when he got a citation for selling M&Ms without a permit, more than 20 attorneys and even prosecutors showed up in municipal court to defend him. "We said, he's not selling them. He's giving them," Schaffer said. "He would say, 'I love you! Take 'em!' "

Judge Jean Spradling Hughes spoke about how Rick had enabled her addiction to peanut M&Ms, often running up to her car window, throwing bags of them through the crack and telling her he loved her. "He was a man that I've seen give up his cane to somebody else because they needed it more than he did," Hughes said. "That was our Rick."

And Kathy Griffin Grinan, who runs the We've Been There Done That Re-Entry program for recovering prostitutes in Harris County and the state, wanted to share a message from Rick that the two of them had discussed time and time again throughout his life. The friends had met while each was on a road to recovery, struggling with addiction.

"Since all of you are here — the judges, the DAs and the lawyers — Rick wanted all of you to know something. The most important thing that Rick wanted to get across to all of you all in attendance today: Don't judge every dope fiend that you see," she said. "That body and that soul loved all of us unconditionally. And you never know who your guardian angel is. You never know who you're speaking to or who's speaking to you. Don't judge."

St. John's United Methodist Pastor Rudy Rasmus delivered the eulogy, bearing a similar message. Rasmus met Johnson more than a decade ago and would often buy him cake from his favorite downtown restaurant, Treebeards — which served lunch to Rick's family and friends after the funeral service. Each time he brought him cake, Rasmus would invite Rick to church, a pattern that went on for three years until Rick finally came to the Sunday service — and preferred to sit in a chair in the middle of the aisle.

Inevitably, Rasmus said, he would reach out and grab somebody, and tell them he loved them.

Toward the end of his eulogy, Rasmus told the crowd to look to Rick's casket, to remind them that he is no longer there, but had some work to do elsewhere, continuing his lifelong mission.

"Everybody say it," Rasmus told the crowd.  "Rick is hustling M&Ms in heaven."

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