Nobody in Macon, Ga., knew the real name of the gruff homeless man who frequented the city streets for more than 10 years until he died after being hit by a car in March.

To some, he was known as Mr. Brown. Others called him Professor, Moses or John the Baptist.

His death revealed his real identity: Arthur Panish, a former Spanish teacher in the Pine Bush School District.

Panish had been in Macon as early as 2004, having built his own bamboo shelter on the banks of the Ocmulgee River under the Spring Street bridge, according to resident Linda Lester.

The residents already didn’t know much about him, and Lester didn’t want to let his memory fade, she said.

On Saturday, about 70 people attended a memorial service for Panish at the Highland Hills Baptist Church, a final gesture for a man who Lester said never accepted the food or help offered by countless Macon residents over the years.

He would yell at anyone who offered help, telling them to leave him alone, Lester said. In response, some residents would hide food or clothes in the hedges near his main haunt.

Panish, 75, died in March from massive head trauma a couple days after being hit by a car on an Interstate 16 ramp, said Liz Fabian, a reporter with the Telegraph in Macon.

Panish was eventually identified by fingerprints, but a spelling error in his name complicated the next-of-kin notifications, Fabian said.

So his only living relative and twin sister, Geraldine Panish, found him.

“Honestly, I’ve googled him from time to time,” she said, saying she had no way to contact him after their mother's death in 2007. “Two weeks after that accident that killed him, I decided to Google him.”

The online search was how she found the Telegraph coverage of his death.

The one comfort for Geraldine Panish, who lives in New York City, has been the community that cared for him from a distance. She has plans to visit Macon in June.

He remains a mystery even to her, though, she said.

“I think he was the kind of guy who wanted things to be right, to be good, to be fair. I just think in some way, that might’ve did him in,” Geraldine Panish said. “I’m just trying to figure it out for myself.”

The questions will likely remain unanswered.

“It’s almost like he was a mosaic or a puzzle. We filled in a lot of the pieces, but there’s still so much that’s empty,” Fabian said. “We may never, ever know what happened.”

For Lester, it’s a reminder that everybody has a story before they become homeless, that it can happen to anyone, she said.

Arthur Panish was cremated, and Lester and Geraldine Panish decided his ashes should be scattered along the Ocmulgee River.

aspadaro@th-record.com