Longtime residents of Munjoy Hill in Portland are mourning the death of Bobby Lipps, 67, a fixture of the neighborhood for half a century who spent his life helping others.
Lipps died Monday at the Springbrook Center nursing home in Westbrook, where he had been living for the last couple of years, his friends and family said.
Born and raised on Munjoy Hill, Lipps made the neighborhood and helping people who lived there his life, said Deirdre Nice, who knew Lipps for 30 years and became his de facto guardian over the last decade.
Around the neighborhood, Lipps seemed to be everywhere. But his home base was the St. Lawrence Arts Center, which Nice owns and runs. Lipps was chief tour guide, handyman and helper. And when Nice ran Silly’s restaurant, Bobby worked there, too, cutting french fries and making pizza boxes, or doing odd jobs.
Lipps, who was developmentally delayed since birth, found in his neighbors and neighborhood a purpose and a calling, Nice said.
“He helped everybody,” Nice said. “His whole life from the beginning, he was just always helping people.”
Business owners welcomed him into their shops, gave him free food or permitted him to weed-whack their lawns, said Tom Milliken, a friend of Nice and Lipps for years.
When he was working his way through law school, Milliken met Lipps at the old Silly’s location on Cumberland Avenue. He said Lipps walked in one day with his handyman business card and offered to weed-whack the St. Lawrence Arts Center lawn. He couldn’t stand it being overgrown, Milliken said.
“He offered his services for free,” Milliken said. “He was the first volunteer (Nice) ever got.”
It was the start of a long friendship between Nice and Lipps, Milliken said.
Over the years, Lipps collected and fixed broken extension cords. He probably had thousands of feet of them, Nice said. His cords were long enough that he would plug in one end at the arts center, and trot off down the block, weed-whacking lawns and curbsides as he went.
“He’d use the St. Lawrence electricity and be weed-whacking like three blocks away,” Nice said. It earned him the nickname the Extension Cord King of Munjoy Hill.
Lipps gave expert tours of the arts center, and on the Fourth of July, he sat outside the door while throngs gathered on the Eastern Promenade to watch fireworks.
“He would rent out the toilet,” Nice said.
John Lipps, 64, said his oldest brother always had tools and a little workshop at his mother’s house, and used his time fixing things and helping others.
“My mom would worry about him using power tools and stuff like that, but after he got trained on it and worked on it, he would use the power tools,” John Lipps said.
Around Christmastime, Lipps would haul around a cart with his extension cords, and offer people to use them for their Christmas lights, John Lipps said.
One of Bobby Lipps’ favorite haunts was the Front Room. Staff there knew he was a diabetic, and prepared off-menu meals for him, Milliken said. They looked after him like family, and every week or two, Nice would pick up his tab.
Back when the restaurant still had a manual cash register, they installed a special button that said “Bob,” John Lipps said.
“He paid one price, whether it was breakfast, dinner or lunch,” Lipps said. “They watched out for him.”
Lipps’ passion for his next meal was also a memorable part of his personality, Milliken said. The pair used to meet up on Sunday mornings for breakfast at the Front Room. When Lipps went into the nursing home, Milliken said he used to bring Lipps takeout food, which was in addition to the meals he already ate at the facility.
Lipps also survived COVID-19, which he contracted in April, but his case was not grave, Milliken said.
“The nurses said he slept through a couple mealtimes,” Milliken said. “You know something is wrong with Bobby if you sleep through a couple mealtimes.”
John Lipps said the family is making arrangements for a celebration of life to be held at some point in the future when it’s safe to travel and gather together.