So long to a Coconut Grove original

Originally published on August 4, 1997

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In Coconut Grove, he was known simply as "Sunhawk." That was because he lived in the trees.

He was longhaired and shaggy-faced -- the homeless hippie. His address was in a sapodilla for several years, then he moved his mattress to an oak. He kept no car, no bank account and made coffee money carving wood.

But the path to greatness has many meandering forks, and Bruce "Sunhawk" Proctor, 48, was apparently on one of the trickier trails. In fact, Sunhawk was soaring over it all, his friends said at a packed memorial service Sunday.

"This week a piece of Coconut Grove died, " Bob Deresz, 47, said solemnly to the standing-room-only crowd at the Taurus Steak House. "Sunhawk knew every fence and every tree. He had smelled every flower. We're really going to miss him here."

Three days after he died, finally brought to earth by a brain aneurysm, 150 friends and ardent admirers gathered to remember Sunhawk. They included business people, professionals, owners of his carvings and other artists.

They praised him as a man of principle and artistic talent. He was an American original, one of the pantheon of free spirits in the history of the Grove.

"He carved himself into our hearts with a wit and grace as sharp as his knife, " said Deborah Altman, 50, a condominium manager, who had bought many of his carvings.

Tears were shed. Voices cracked as eulogies were read to a man "who looked like a street bum," everyone agreed, but who was considered one of the last beloved and admired figures to come out the freewheeling, free-loving golden days of the Grove of the 1960s and '70s.

"He was the last Bohemian, " said Christ Tavantzis, 48, a photographer. "He was one of the last linking us to old beatniks and hippies. That era when everybody in the Grove knew each other by first names or nicknames. He was The Sunhawk."

In an interview with The Herald in 1991, Sunhawk said he moved to the Grove in 1978, helped build the Mayfair Shopping Plaza as a construction worker, before taking to the trees and the alternative life.

"I'm a sun-worshiper, " he said then. "I'm a warrior of the sun."

He claimed he had taken approximately 200 LSD trips in those early days, although friends said that in later years he avoided any serious drug or alcohol abuse. Buried beneath what became a scruffy and extremely weathered exterior from years under that sun, there was an artist. Over his 19 years in the Grove, Sunhawk produced more than 3,000 wood carvings mainly of local fauna and flora, his friends estimate. Many he sold on the street for $20. Some of them, extremely delicate work, hang in businesses and homes all over the Grove.

"He never hawked his wares, " said Altman, who bought about 10 carvings over the years. "He never pushed himself on anyone. You had to ask him."

Also, hidden beneath that exterior of a street bum was a radical, unswerving view of how life should be lived. It was a position once embraced by many of his friends in more innocent days. "Reality" had forced them to release it.

A chorus of friends sang praises Sunday to Sunhawk who had stayed the high-flying course.

"I lived in a tree, too, once, " said Dave Glass, a fellow artist, "but he lived his life as close to total freedom as anyone I know."

"He made up his mind and never looked back, " said Butch Warren, 61, longtime bartender at the Taurus. "He had great integrity."

"Of everyone I know, he was the closest to God, " said Arlene Thomas, 28.

Too close at moments. When Hurricane Andrew was headed toward Dade, many friends worried about him in his tree where he planned to ride it out. One of them had to trick him into staying at his house, by asking for help guarding his premises.

"And then Sunhawk slept through the whole thing, " said the friend.

And even Hurricane Andrew didn't alter his lifestyle much.

"Before the blow he lived in the top of the tree, " said friend Dan Littlejohn. "After, he moved downstairs into the middle of the tree. That's all."

Butch Warren, dressed like Sunhawk in shaggy hair and beard Sunday, wore a farewell message around his neck that everyone approved of. It said:

"Have a safe flight, Sunhawk."

Copyright 2008 The Miami Herald Media Company