Known as Big Red by his friends, William Braxton was a Florida native who grew up in New York City. An insurance salesman and small business owner, Big Red relocated to Seattle when offered sales management training on the West Coast. William sold Real Change at the Mercer Mess during morning and evening rush hours, where he was one of the top vendors in the organization.
Big Red said coming to Seattle was like moving to a different planet, asking, “Is this Star Trek?” He was shocked to realize that people were afraid of him and that they would clutch their purses a little tighter.
“They’re not afraid of me [personally]; it’s what they’ve been told,” he said.
Once settled in Seattle, Big Red became one of the biggest Seahawks fan in the state. William’s lively spirit and positive outlook on life made him a force to be reckoned with, especially when wearing all of his Seahawk gear during home games. Everyone knew Big Red was nearby when they heard the humming of Motown tunes and saw a flash of blue clothing headed toward them.
William’s strength came, in part, from losing his parents at a very young age and being raised by his older siblings, three brothers and one sister, the eldest. His sense of humor, honed early on in life, allowed him to survive his high school basketball playing years as old roughhousing grudges, stemming from his older brothers’ moves, were, unfortunately, settled with Big Red on the court. His natural sense of humor also made him well-liked by his customers. Many, in fact, would call the Real Change office asking about Big Red’s health when he wasn’t at his selling location.
William was a stalwart at the Mercer Mess and will be missed by many.
Well-known and liked at Real Change for his positive outlook on life and his professionalism when working as a vendor. In November of 2012, Big Red’s Real Change friends also got a glimpse of his belief in our democracy and the possibility of change. That day, Big Red rushed into the office, looking for information on voting in the 2012 election. His completed ballot was ruined; it got soaked in the rain the night before when he had to sleep outside. William asked if he could get a new ballot and, if so, where to go and who he needed to speak with. Once a new ballot was completed and dropped off at a designated ballot box, Big Red sighed and said, “Okay, okay. I voted. Now, I did something. I can get on with my day.”
Big Red suffered a stroke on November 29, 2013 in the Real Change office and was taken to Harborview. Once out of the neurology ICU, William was transferred to a Seattle medical rehabilitation facility. Throughout his stay there, many of the health-care staff were quick to note his ready smile whenever attending to his care.
Big Red passed away peacefully on Aug. 28 in that facility. His nurse spent time with William throughout the day, comforting him, holding his hands and telling him that he was loved. When speaking to Big Red’s friends later that evening, the nurse said that Big Red was serene and prepared to leave this life. Big Red did, indeed, live a life where, in his own words he “did something.” Big Red leaves a daughter and a community in Seattle where he informed his customers about economic and social justice issues and was a welcoming face in an up-and-coming neighborhood where people remain “stuck in their cars” and his friendly smile was most welcomed.