Dec 14, 2009 5:57 PM by Abby Lane

Vice Mayor was once homeless

Many know Larry Small as the city's vice mayor -- a strong conservative, but one with compassion for the city's gay community and its homeless. "People need to be treated and respected no matter what circumstances they're in," he said. "They all deserve that."

He retired from a career as an engineer before becoming a city leader. Success, however, did not come easily. 

"It never occurred to me that we were living any differently than anyone else," he said. Born in a tiny town in West Virginia, he spent the first few years living with his grandparents.  Just before 8th grade, he moved to Tennessee with his parents. "My father had gotten a job and then lost the job so he was without one. We didn't have anything.  Literally the clothes I had were the clothes I was wearing."

They moved from a dingy hotel to the streets, bouncing from shelter to shelter.  The one he remembers best had a large mezzanine where he and his family lived in a tent - his first experience "camping."

A scrapbook now holds many of his childhood memories.  They show a handsome, young man - a student leader who shined at school despite terrible conditions at home. "It was pretty awful," he said. "I mean it had rats. It had cockroaches. It had a hall bathroom that was shared by everyone who had a room in that building."

He worked at night to support his family. Each job led to a better one and eventually, a better place to live. "To me, it was really what America was about."

It's a story he almost never shares of a childhood he'd never change.

"To me that was a great experience to have that kind of challenge and be able to do that."



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