John "Johnnie" Votta may not be famous around the world, but his death has marked the end of an era for legions of New Yorkers and NYU students.
Votta, known by many as "the Timekeeper," was an everyday fixture on the NYU campus. He would stand, indefatigably, at a spot in Greenwich Village on the corner of Washington Place and Washington Square East. There, he would act as an "unofficial traffic cop" -- screaming at drivers to slow down and warning students to be careful of incoming vehicles as they walked to class.
Using watches strapped on each wrist, he would also tell students how many minutes they had left before the class bell would ring.
"That guy was awesome," Sikandar Shukla, a recent graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, told The Huffington Post. "He was there everyday, like it was job or something, telling everyone to rush to class. 'Watch the traffic,' was his catchphrase."
"He was epic, quite the character," Shukla, 22, continued. "I only wish I had gotten to know him better."
According to the New York Times, Votta, who was said to be 70, died last month from natural causes.
The newspaper writes:
Roland Velez, a doorman who works on the block on West 12th Street where Mr. Votta lived and who became one of his closest friends over the past 15 years, said Mr. Votta had a heart ailment and a pacemaker, and had been hospitalized recently for feeling faint and weak. Mr. Votta had not been seen leaving his apartment over the weekend, and Mr. Velez finally called 911...Mr. Votta was found inside dead.
For more than a decade, Votta had made a daily stop at 49 W 12th street to visit Velez.
"He’d come by our building and shoot the breeze. He’d offer us coffee, we’d talk. We became very close. He was one of the nicest people I’ve met,” Velez told NYU Local, the university's blog. Velez’s wife, Danielle, said that Votta "would even get holiday gifts for her children."
Twice each day, Votta would also make an appearance at his usual spot at the edge of Washington Square Park, where he would shepherd the NYU students to class.
“He wasn’t an official member of the NYU community but he left more of an impression on students than many faculty members,” 26-year-old Natasha Raheja, a doctoral student of anthropology at NYU, told The New York Times. “He reminded us that it’s the small things we do that matter.”
NYU spokesman Philip Lentz concurred.
“Mr. Votta was a beloved figure on campus, and his presence and booming voice will be missed,” Lentz told student publication Washington Square News.
A lifelong bachelor, Votta had "lived on an $870 monthly Social Security check and paid $60 a week for a rent-regulated furnished room on West 12th Street, with a hot plate and a common bathroom in the hall," the Times reports.
Yet, despite his scarce means, Votta gave his time -- and timekeeping -- unconditionally to the NYU community.
“He didn't ask for anything back," said Yee Ting Wu, 20, an NYU junior studying economics and urban design, told NY Daily News. "And he was always here, rain or shine."
“My attitude towards life is to do what makes people happy,” Votta said in a biographical documentary filmed by NYU students in 2010.
Since Votta's death, there has been talk that a memorial may be erected in his name -- at the very street corner where he stood religiously for years.
Two college seniors, Anastasia Moryakova, 21, and Randy Ray, 22, told The New York Times that they were discussing "the possibility of raising money from the student body" to get a statue of Votta erected there.
"Many universities have giant, regal-looking towers to display the time. NYU isn’t most schools. We were fortunate enough to have the most unique clock imaginable. John Votta was a sparkling piece of NYU’s culture and energy, and he will be greatly missed," writes NYU Local.