'The Angel of Grandin,' James Tarpley, passes away at 86
Tarpley lived in Grandin Village for more than 30 years
ROANOKE, Va. – It's hard to have spent much time in Roanoke's Grandin Village without running into James Tarpley.
Dubbed "The Angel of Grandin" Tarpley, 86, spent many years giving back on anyone and everyone in the community.
During his more than 30 years living in Grandin Village, he's paid for funerals, arranged weddings, helped clean out flooded basements, picked weeds and helped in many other ways, according to the Historic Grandin Village website.
In 2018, Tarpley was named Roanoke's Citizen of the Year.
In addition to helping others, he also cared for and oversaw the park and playground on Memorial Avenue, which was named in his honor and is better known as Mr. Tarpley's Playground.
Earlier this month, a mural of Tarpley was unveiled in Grandin Village near the 7 Eleven.
Inside that store, a chair sits empty. On it, is a label that reads "JAMES CHAIR."
That was where Tarpley would sit when he'd stop by the store a few times a day to visit his friend of over 30 years, Susan Lipes, who co-own's that 7 Eleven.
"I've known him for so long," Lipes said. "Whenever I've had to work midnight, James was there. He came and hung out with the whole time."
Lipes hadn't heard from Tarpley since Friday, so Tuesday morning she and his cousin went to check on him. That's when they found out that he'd passed away in his sleep sometime over the weekend.
"Oh I cried," Lipes said. "It's very, very, very hard."
Another one of Tarpley's friends -- Jenny Prickitt, who also owns New To Me Consignment Boutique -- could barely hold back tears.
"I'm trying not to cry again. It's been a very hard morning. Not only has James been a part of my life since I've been in business, he's been a part of my grandchildren's lives" Prickitt said.
Lipes and Prickitt said that Tarpley would help anyone. He'd do yard work around the neighborhood, pay for people's rent and funerals, and he even helped stop a bank robber back in 2004.
Over the years, his kindness hasn't gone unnoticed. There's a park in his honor and he received plaques and awards recognizing his selflessness.
"He genuinely loved that community over there and he was a special person," said Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea, "Had a great heart and we're going to miss him.
While his chair at 7 Eleven will stay empty, his stories will fill the hearts of his community.
"I'll miss him at the playground. I'll miss him popping in the store," Prickitt said. "It'll be empty without him."
"Very, very good man," Lipes said. "He meant the world to me."
Tuesday night, Village Grille is also donating 35% of all food sales to maintain Tarpley's park.
The James Hunter Tarpley Facebook page says his funeral is set for Saturday.
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