Larry Carlson, who died July 31 at age 62, was a man with a love of Disneyland, the Beatles and graduation ceremonies at Southwest High School — he attended 34 of them. Born with the developmental disability Down Syndrome, Carlson became a local legend: "Linden Hills Larry," renowned for his relentless optimism and ever-present smile. He was a frequent visitor to Linden Hills and Pershing parks, where he’d often entertain children by singing his versions of Elvis songs.
"He’d do anything for anyone that he could," said Cindy Lidstone, who worked as parkkeeper at Pershing Park for 22 years. "He always cheered me up."
Jerry Peterson, who saw Carlson nearly every day for 17 years at Pershing, said, "He could make your worst day better in a minute or two. To him, every day was a gift."
Peterson attended Carlson’s Aug. 4 funeral. "It was a celebration of life," he said.
Said Lidstone, "I saw a lot of tall, big men wiping their eyes [at the funeral]."
Tom Neiman, community education specialist for Southwest, has known Carlson since 1954. "Whenever Larry ran into me, he’d always say, ‘What are you doing here?’ At his funeral, I wanted to say, ‘I’m here to pay back an inspiration that you’ve provided for the past 50 years to my family and community.’"
In 1991, Southwest High invited Carlson to become an honorary member of its graduating class, an honor that friends said touched him deeply. Another of his dreams came true later when he finally made it to Disney World.
"When he’d come to Pershing, he’d go up to the kids and point to the Mickey Mouse on his shirt and make them laugh," Peterson remembered. "He would talk to them in such a gentle voice."
Added Peterson, "He was the Southwest’s PR person."