Raymond Arke | Asst. News Editor
Randyland, a full-sized house located at 1501 Arch Street on the North Side that serves as an art exhibit, is a staple for people visiting Pittsburgh or a weekend activity for Duquesne students. Now, people are giving back to Randy Gilson, the owner, in a time of need.
Last year, Gilson found out that his partner of 23 years, Mac, was diagnosed with terminal cancer with six months to live.
A GoFundMe account was created to send Gilson and Mac on their first vacation together to the Grand Canyon and Los Angeles. It was started March 8 and as of press time had raised nearly $20,000, even though the original goal was $10,000.
Christine Lorenz, an adjunct instructor of art history at Duquesne, explained how well loved Gibson is.
“I can confirm that [Gilson] is an absolute legend in this city,” she said.
She credits Gilson for helping transform the Mexican War Streets neighborhood.
“Randy was kind of a pioneer in the neighborhood,” Lorenz said. “He brought a lot of energy and fun to the area when it was still mostly blighted, and helped raise the reputation and appeal of the neighborhood.”
Foo Conner, one of Gilson’s main directors around Randyland, described Mac as the balance to Gilson’s outgoing personality.
“Mac is a shy fellow,” he said, who was comfortable being in the background as the gardener.
Conner explained that Mac had been receiving comfort recently from a surprise visitor.
On the day Mac found out that his cancer was terminal, “a stray cat came and sat on his lap,” Conner said. Since then, “it’s been an angel to him.”
The GoFundMe account was the work of Tim Martini, the host of a travel show called “Exploring the Absurd.” Martini had only recently featured Randyland on his program.
“We came across Randy a year ago … he told us his life story,” Martini said.
Martini found out Gilson had never really been able to travel outside Pittsburgh.
“He said ‘I’m so jealous you get to travel, I’ve never been anywhere,’” Martini said. “I asked him off the cuff where he’d want to go and he said the Grand Canyon.”
He then had the idea of trying to crowdfund a vacation for Gilson and Mac. As Martini was trying to think how to do that, he heard that Mac was diagnosed. Martini knew he had to do something.
“I knew Mac only had a few months to live … [Gilson] also mentioned Mac wanted to see the ocean. I knew we could make that happen,” he said.
Martini praised Gilson for his generous spirit and explained that’s what drove him to create the GoFundMe.
“[Gilson] is a person that does nothing but give … just a true, genuine person,” he said.
Conner explained that he thought the gesture was a great idea.
“[Martini] knew that Randy was never going to ask … They needed to enjoy a vacation,” he said.
Gilson wasn’t initially pleased with the online efforts.
“I was totally upset and shocked. I’m not a taker,” he said.
He recounted that he never liked gifts as they made him “uncomfortable.” Part of that stemmed from his poor upbringing.
“When I was a little boy I never got presents; when the world starts giving me things, I get uncomfortable,” Gilson said.
After talking it over with Mac, they decided to take the money.
“Mac said, ‘What the hell, Randy. We can go on vacation.’ [He said] ‘I’m OK with it,’ Then I am OK with it,” Gilson said.
The vacation will be to the Grand Canyon, a place where Gilson said he “always wanted to go to,” and to Los Angeles. The L.A. portion of the trip helps fulfill part of Mac’s dream.
“Mac said, ‘Before I die, I want to walk along the beach with palm trees,’” Gilson said.
Even in these troubling times, Gilson still puts a positive spin on things.
“God will take [Mac] wherever he has his plan. I believe it’s meant to be,” he said.
Gilson hopes people will take away a sense of hope from his story and his work.
“[Randyland] is a place of healing,” he said. “I’m the guy that was homeless three times … It’s OK to be where you are [in life].”