BUFFALO, N.Y. — Amy Pilc never socialized with Heyward Patterson, a jitney driver at the grocery store where she often shopped.
Pilc would observe Patterson, 67, assist older customers with their shopping bags, seeming to take deep delight in such a small act. Some days, she walked to the market several times, spotting his grin on each trip.
His spirit made her think, she said, about what good she could do in her own life.
Not until Patterson was killed in a racist massacre at the grocery store last week did Pilc learn that, like so many others in the Masten Park neighborhood on Buffalo’s East Side, she had a small personal connection to him: He was her goddaughter’s great-uncle.
“That’s why I came,” Pilc, 46, said outside Patterson’s funeral at Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church on Friday morning. “It’s such a small world here, and he didn’t deserve it. None of them deserved it.”
The service Friday was the first for 10 Black people who came to the Jefferson Avenue supermarket, Tops, on their own personal, quotidian missions — a work shift, a dinner supply run, a trip to buy a birthday cake for a 3-year-old son — but whose lives ended together.
Patterson’s family asked that reporters not enter the service. But hundreds of visitors from across New York state traveled to Buffalo on Friday to mourn the death of their friend, a deacon at State Tabernacle Church of God whose greetings at the front entrance brightened worshippers’ days.
Deacon Patterson, as he was known, would take a few dollars to provide rides from the Tops in Masten Park, a poorer section where many residents lack cars and rely on tight-knit circles of neighbors for help. Nearly every day, he loaded his Ford Fusion with shopping bags, drove customers home and then repeated the trip, helping the next neighbor in need. Even for those who never exchanged words with him, he was woven into the fabric of the community.
“He was a bright star in the midst of turmoil,” said Clyde Haslam, 66, who attended kindergarten with Patterson and had been his friend ever since.
“We’ve been through so much,” Haslam added. “But no matter the ups and downs, he was always smiling. And so we have to smile here today.”
For Patterson — Tenny or Boy Tenny to his family and friends — the Tops store was like a second ministry. He was killed in the store’s parking lot as he practiced another of his tasks: packing groceries into someone else’s car.
It was a way for him to earn a little money, but it also reflected a characteristic that his loved ones say guided him: a desire to help others. The trait was as evident in his volunteer work at the soup kitchen at his Glenwood Avenue church as it was in his shepherding shoppers at the market.
“As tragic at it is, it happened while he was doing what he loved doing,” said Darrell Dwayne Hicks, who met Patterson about 25 years ago. “It couldn’t have been any other way. He wasn’t out in the streets doing wrong. He was doing something for the people.”
The bond the two men shared was forged through decades of work in soup kitchens and at church services.
“It’s like losing a brother,” Hicks said. “I can’t tell you how much it hurts.”
Many of the mourners wore purple buttons with Patterson’s nickname and portrait underneath a golden crown. Over and over, through tear-filled eyes, they described him as a loving friend and a righteous man.
“I knew him through the community, spreading peace and love,” said Murray Holman, who leads Buffalo’s Stop the Violence Coalition. “We did food drives. He was a good man. A very good man.”
Some of Patterson’s dozens of distant relatives, a group that included the godmother of a cousin, were asked to sing a selection of gospel music during the service.
Members of his immediate family, still struggling to bear the weight of the loss, did not speak outside the church.
On Thursday, his former wife, Tirzah Patterson, had spoken alongside the families of three other people who were killed in the rampage. For the youngest of his three children, Jaques Patterson, 12, she said, adapting to a world without his father — who gave him “anything he asked for” — had been devastating.
“Every day I have to pray and do a check-in to make sure he’s not mentally all over the place,” Tirzah Patterson said, adding that her son had struggled to eat and sleep through the night. “His heart is broken.”
Jacques had planned to share his own thoughts at the event Thursday. But as his mother began to speak, he buried his face in his hands. And as she finished, Jacques shook his head, wept and collapsed into the chest of the Rev. Al Sharpton, who embraced him and rubbed the back of his gray T-shirt.
“As a mother, what am I supposed to do to get him over this?” said Tirzah Patterson, who was married to the deacon for 15 years. “They took his father.”
On Friday, the sense of enduring heartache remained on display: A 70-year-old cousin stood around the corner from the church’s tall red front doors as other relatives walked inside to view Heyward Patterson’s body.
The man, who declined to provide his name, said he could not bear to see his lifeless loved one, when even speaking about him was too much.
For David Wilson, 66, another of Patterson’s cousins, decades of memories flashed through his mind as he left the church. He had seen Patterson a week before the attack, and Patterson had encouraged him to stop by his church for a service.
The two had fallen out of regular contact in recent years, Wilson said. But as children, they crossed paths regularly. Wilson recalled once spending an afternoon with Patterson and a group of other relatives.
Five dollars was up for grabs. All Patterson had to do was sprint around the block in a pair of silk underwear and a matching T-shirt and collect the money.
“And he did it,” Wilson said. “That was him: He just wanted to make people smile — and that spirit never left him.”