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West Village Neighbors Remember the 'Collector of Bedford Street'

By Andrea Swalec | January 22, 2013 12:59pm | Updated on January 22, 2013 9:13pm

MANHATTAN — "Could I see you one minute?" is a question West Village residents and regulars will no longer be hearing as often.

Known as the "collector of Bedford Street" for raising as much as $500,000 for charity from passersby around his home, neighborhood fixture Larry Selman died Sunday, according to neighbors.

Selman, a Brooklyn native with an intellectual disability, was the subject of the Oscar-nominated 2002 documentary "The Collector of Bedford Street," made by his neighbor Alice Elliott. He died of heart failure, said Elliott, a friend for 36 years. He was 70.

"He was like a magnet. He attracted people everywhere he went," the filmmaker said, noting she was approached in locales as far-flung as Qatar, on the publicity tour for the film, by people who told her they had met Selman during visits to New York.

By Elliott's estimate, the neighborhood volunteer raised as much as half a million dollars over the course of 50 years for groups including AIDS Walk New York, United Cerebral Palsy and the pediatric AIDS clinic at the former St. Vincent's Hospital. 

He was recognized by the Muscular Dystrophy Association for being a top local fundraiser, and received an award in 2009 along with Colin Powell for his commitment to public service.

When asked why he spent his time raising money for charity, Selman's answer was always vague, Elliott said.

"He just always said, 'Oh, my father helped out people and I started doing it too,'" she said.

Neighbor Diane Wildowsky, a member of the Bedford-Barrow-Commerce Block Association, remembered Selman as a friendly man and impressive fundraiser.

"That was his reason to live," she said. "It gave him something to do and he was very, very good at it."

As Elliott's film recounts, members of the block association banded together in 2001 to form a trust fund for Selman as his sole caretaker, an elderly uncle, aged.

"It was a remarkable thing how the neighborhood came together for Larry," association vice president Terri Howell said.

Selman's legacy of service will live on, Elliott said, as the film about him is shown globally to youth members of the volunteer group Kiwanis International.

"Service leadership is often an unlikely person," Elliott said. "Who would guess that this man with an intellectual disability and an IQ of 69 would be leading the community?"