Claremont man killed by car remembered as selfless person

by Matthew Bramlett | news@claremont-courier.com

Friends have identified a Claremont resident who was hit by a car and killed on Saturday morning as William Demastus.

Mr. Demastus, 96, was crossing Indian Hill Boulevard between First Street and the railroad tracks when a car hit him at approximately 6:52 a.m. Mr. Demastus was rushed to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where he died on Tuesday, according to his longtime friend Peter Carabatsos.

Mr. Demastus was remembered as a kind and selfless person who had “wonderful intellectual conversations with everyone,” Mr. Carabatsos said.

What he was best known for, however, was his unlikely friendship with famed writer Ernest Hemingway.

It began in 1950, when Mr. Demastus was a college student in Washington. He wrote a letter to Mr. Hemingway, and when the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist didn’t reply, Mr. Demastus hitchhiked from Washington to Key West, Florida to see him in person.

When he found out Mr. Hemingway was actually at his home in Havana, Cuba, Mr. Demastus chartered a plane to take him there.

“He went and got himself a room in a hotel, and he went into Hemingway’s house and rang the doorbell,” Mr. Carabatsos said.

Mr. Hemingway let Mr. Demastus into his home, Finca Vigia, and they talked and shared a bottle of champagne. The experience was detailed in Mr. Demastus’ book, “Champagne with Hemingway.”

A letter Mr. Hemingway wrote to Mr. Demastus after their encounter is part of the Hemingway archives in Boston.

David Allen of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin interviewed Mr. Demastus about the experience in an October 2019 article.

“I’m the only guy alive on Earth who talked to Hemingway,” Mr. Demastus told Mr. Allen.

Mr. Demastus was also a World War II veteran, stationed in the pacific theater. He received an honorable discharge and four medals for his service, Mr. Carabatsos said.

An avid swimmer in college, Mr. Demastus worked as a private swimming instructor, writing a book titled, “What Every Competitive Swimmer Should Know.”

“Swimming was his passion, literature was his passion,” Mr. Carabatsos said.

He later took a job as a postal worker in Downtown Los Angeles, a position he held for over 40 years before he retired.

Mr. Demastus was a world traveller, visiting Greece several times, as well as multiple countries across Europe.

Mr. Carabatsos and his wife, Hana Lawida, met Mr. Demastus when they all lived at the Park LaBrea apartment complex in Los Angeles. Mr. Carabatsos and Ms. Lawida owned a Greek restaurant, Ulysses Voyage, at the nearby Farmers Market on Fairfax Avenue, and Mr. Demastus was a frequent presence.

“That was his hangout,” Mr. Carabatsos said. “[The Farmers Market] was basically the closest thing to Europe for him.”

When Mr. Carabatsos and Ms. Lawida decided to sell the business and move to Claremont, they took Mr. Demastus with him. They found an apartment for him at the Claremont Villas senior apartments

Ms. Lawida remembered Mr. Demastus as a positive presence in her life, offering her words of encouragement when she went through tough times.

“William was like a father to me,” Ms. Lawida said.

In his time in Claremont, Mr. Demastus stayed active, walking all over the Village and making friends wherever he went. He was a regular at the Claremont Library and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

He never married, nor did he have any children, Mr. Carabatsos said. He is currently working on getting Mr. Demastus buried with full military honors.

“He was always positive, with great stories to tell,” Mr. Carabatsos said.

The driver of the silver Honda Civic who hit Mr. Demastus remained at the scene and cooperated with police, Det. Matt Hamill of the Claremont Police Department said. He was not charged.

A candlelight vigil for Mr. Demastus is scheduled for Saturday evening at the spot where he was killed, Ms. Lawida said.

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