The Kindness of Strangers:  Thomy Lafon
    It isn't only Blanche Dubois, Tennessee Williams' character in "A Streetcar Named Desire," who has had to depend upon the kindness of strangers.  There have always been generous philanthropists in every part of the world who have shared their good fortune with worthy charitable organizations and people in need of a helping hand.  New Orleans is no exception.
   Miriam-Webster Dictionary gives the etymology of the word "philanthropy" as follows:  "Latin and Greek...philanthropis:  loving people" and the definition as:  "Active effort to promote human welfare."  This could certainly be said of Thomy Lafon, whose countless acts of generosity still reverberate in the city of New Orleans, over a hundred years after his death.
   An excerpt from Thomy Lafon's biography, published in the 1930's:
   "Thomy Lafon was born in New Orleans in 1801 to Pierre and Modest Larolde.  His father was French and his mother was Haitian, both free people of color.  He attended school in New Orleans and afterward taught for several years.  In later years, he was operating a small store on Orleans Street which became very successful.  He invested in real estate and soon accumulated a small fortune.  Lafon was of dignified bearing, courteous and genial in manner.  He spoke several languages fluently, which undoubtedly helped in his success.
   "Although Lafon owned pretentious houses, large lots and tracts of land, he resided in a small cottage at the corner of Ursuline and Robertson Streets.  Here, for many years, he lived a miserly life, shunning all extravagance, but never refusing assistance to deserving charities and persons.  Lafon left the bulk of his estate to the charitable, educational and religious institutions of New Orleans.  Among these were Charity Hospital, Lafon Old Folks' Home, the Shakespeare Alms House (now, the Touro-Shakespeare Home) and the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital.  In recognition of his generosity, the city named a public school in his honor."
   In addition to the charitable interests mentioned above, Mr. Lafon was instrumental in enabling the Sisters of the Holy Family to purchase the land on which they built
their convent in the French Quarter.  He established the Lafon Orphan Boys' Asylum (also, known as Lafon Boys' Home), he was a supporter of Straight University and donated the funds to build the John Berchman Asylum for Girls.  Eschewing luxury for himself, he donated money to innumerable New Orleans charitable organizations and his door was always open to people in need.
   A public school was named after him and, also, a children's playground.  Mr. Lafon died in 1895 and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 on Esplanade Avenue.
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Above, this was the Lafon Boys' Home from 1893 - 1906; it was located on St. Peter, between Claiborne and Derbigny.  Below, the Home at its next location, 6800 block of Chef Menteur Highway; photo, ca. 1935.
The John Berchman Home for Girls, 700 block of Orleans; built by Thomy Lafon in 1893.  By 1935, the Home had moved to the 2700 block of Gentilly Boulevard, where it remained open until 1971.  (The photo description reads "John Berchman," but I believe this name may have been St. John Berchman, named for the patron saint of young people.)
Thomy Lafon Public School, 2900 block of South Robertson; photo, 1932.