Willie Ellis (born Robert Bailey) (December 24, 1953 – June 22, 2022) was a much-loved local salesman who would set up his wares on a daily basis at the Lake Merritt pergola. People who regularly walk that section of the lake knew him, if not by name, by reputation. Willie was often referred to as the Mayor or Greeter of Lake Merritt — a title well-suited for a gentleman who loved his life at Lake Merritt and had friends from every walk of life.
In 2016, Willie disappeared and it was feared he had died. A small shrine was erected where he normally worked. 1 It turned out he was severely attacked and robbed in July, and had been recovering at Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro. 2
Sadly, on June 22, 2022, Mr. Willie passed away from medical complications related to long-term brain damage that resulted from his 2016 attack If you’d like to help honor and celebrate Mr. Willie, please consider donating to the GoFundMe set up by Willie’s friends to throw him a proper farewell event by the lake where we'll scatter his ashes (date TBD) and to fund a lasting memorial to Willie in “his spot” by the pergola — hopefully a granite bench, but at the very least, an impressive plaque. The goal is to ensure he can forever remain where we all know he belongs: right by his beloved Lake Merritt.
Links and References
- Absence of beloved Lake Merritt mystery man prompts unusual outpouring East Bay Times September 2, 2016
- Mystery solved, Lake Merritt salesman not dead after all, just recovering from brutal assault East Bay Times September 6, 2016
Lake Merritt street salesman returns from the “dead” East Bay Times September 28, 2016
Remembering Willie Ellis, ‘mayor,’ salesman, and brightest light at Lake Merritt Oaklandside July 21, 2022