Sandy Bell rides down Cherry Street while making his rounds selling flowers in area bars and restaurants in this file photo.

This story was updated Jan. 28, 2019, at 5:08 p.m. with more information.

Oterius Bell didn't have a powerful position or a fat wallet.

He had something more important: the spirit of friendship, expressed with a beaming smile and a handful of flowers.

Now many Chattanoogans are mourning the passing of a man most of them knew as Sandy the Flower Man, who died Sunday. His daughter, Angela Tucker, said he'd been hospitalized Thursday, his 61st birthday, with a collapsed lung.

Everyone knew Bell by sight, at least, with his cowboy hats and cool shades, riding around town on his colorfully decorated bike and carrying flowers.

He was at home in local restaurants and bars, wandering among the tables with his flowers for sale. As news spread Monday, tributes from those businesses on social media drew heartfelt responses.

"Rest in peace Sandy the flower man, you will be missed," was on the Terminal Brewhouse's Facebook page.

The manager at the Southern Star on Broad Street posted, "My wonderful owners fed him just about every night. Loved seeing his big smile. RIP."

"Chattanooga just lost a little piece of its heart!" Trevor Ledford posted on the MainX24 Facebook page.

Added Michael Brown, on the same page: "Flowers being passed out in Heaven tonight. Everyone should shower his funeral with flowers."

A local floral design business, Fox and Fern, asked on Facebook for floral designers to contribute blooms for a public installation planned for Wednesday. The company invited everyone interested to come help assemble the tribute.

Tucker, who works for a Washington-based adoption and foster care agency, said via email that "the outpouring of support and love from the Chattanooga community is uniquely special and gives me hope that Sandy's iconic presence will not be forgotten."

She added, "I'd be so delighted if folks give someone special a flower today, in his honor. I'm so sad."

Some of his friends are planning how the community can contribute to help his family with final expenses.

Monica Kinsey, co-founder of MainX24, said Monday she had spoken with Bell's sister, who said the family was only beginning to look toward the funeral service.

Kinsey said she'd known Bell, a Howard High School graduate and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, for years from working in restaurants and venues downtown.

"He would always show up at night dressed in his finest, whatever his mood was that night, selling flowers and bringing camaraderie to everyone."

He also did odd jobs for business owners and residents downtown, mowing grass, hauling trash, washing windows or whatever else needed doing.

"He was always happy, and would do just about anything I asked him to do," said Lynn Swearingen, who lives in the Southside and said Sandy did such jobs for her.

"I always knew when Sandy had been at my house and done anything because he would leave a flower or a rose on the little table by my front door," Swearingen said.

"He meant a lot to a lot of people. He cheered up so many people, and he didn't expect anything in return."

He might not have expected any return, but when Bell got sick, his friends wanted him to know he wasn't alone.

After his second colon cancer diagnosis in 2015, the community came together to raise money to take care of his rent. He had a stroke in 2017, and downtown businesses put out donation jars to encourage customers to help.

Kinsey said some of that money went for an electric-assisted bike so Bell could keep cruising even though he was becoming frailer.

In 2018, Bell was named grand marshal for MainX24's annual parade.

Kinsey said he was beyond thrilled to be given 900 carnations to hand out along the parade route, and to accept flowers and candy from the people lining the streets.

"He was so excited," she said. "He told me he'd always wanted to be in a parade and never thought he'd be able to. He had such a good time that day."

On Monday, the MainX24 Facebook page also remembered that day in a post.

"We are so happy that we were able to be there with Sandy as he made his parade dreams come true! Our town will never be the same without his light and his infectious spirit."

Contact Judy Walton at