Grieving widower’s pay-it-forward note to young couple becomes viral sensation

By Staff, The Canadian Press
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Former New Glasgow publisher receives praise for acts of kindness

TORONTO — A grieving widower has gone from anonymous good Samaritan to global inspiration, thanks to a few words scrawled on a restaurant napkin.

The Note

Lee Ballantyne of Barrie, Ont., who was publisher of the New Glasgow Evening News in the 1990s has earned praise from around the world after channelling his grief for his recently deceased wife into an act of kindness towards a young couple who reminded him of bygone days.

Ballantyne went out to dinner on Jan. 7, barely a week after his wife Carol succumbed to lung cancer. The melancholy meal became a more pleasant experience for Ballantyne as he watched a young couple enjoying dinner together across the room from where he sat.

The happy pair prompted him to reach out in a way that even he had not planned. In what he described as a spontaneous gesture, Ballantyne seized a napkin and dashed off a quick note to the unknown pair: “You don’t know me but my beautiful wife of 43 years died last week. Tonight I dined alone for the first time. You remind me of us many years ago. Please allow me to buy your dinner. Enjoy! It will put a smile on Carol’s face and make me happy . . . for now. Happy New Year! Lee B. Pay it forward.”

A waiter at the restaurant photographed the note and posted it online. Within hours, Ballantyne’s words and generosity were making an impact around the world. In a column written about the reaction, Ballantyne said his note was reposted to various social networks and had garnered hundreds of thousands of views by the end of the week.

Traditional media soon followed suit, with the U.K.’s Daily Mail writing a story and posting pictures of the Ballantynes and their children. News outlets in countries as far afield as Australia, Germany and Croatia also ran articles. Days after the note became public, social media is still rife with posts about Ballantyne, his grief and his good deed.

Many took inspiration from his actions, such as the Twitter user who reflected on following in his footsteps. “Saw this lovely story today and it made me think — have you done anything nice for a stranger lately?” Others were more direct in their praise. “This man proudly holds the flame of humanity aloft. Nicely done.”

Not all reaction was so positive, however. One Intelligencer columnist felt compelled to write about what he described as “internet trolls” who cast aspersions on Ballantyne and even questioned the authenticity of the napkin note.

“...The Internet, as it is wont to do, began to eat its own,” wrote Ballantyne’s personal friend Chris Malette. “There are heartless trolls who skewered the note, the gesture and even Lee. But, those morons are legion in the faceless world of the Internet.”

But Ballantyne himself was among the first to shrug off the handful of negative comments. While acknowledging their existence in his column, he said they weigh lightly in the balance compared to the outpouring of support and appreciation he’s received.

“I didn’t write the note and pay the tab to achieve my 15 minutes of fame. I did it to put a smile on someone’s face and to give myself a badly needed feel-good moment,” he wrote. “The hundreds of comments since then have, I confess, warmed my heart.”

One particularly meaningful interaction came when the couple who inspired the gesture reached out to thank him. Ballantyne declined to name them, but said his contact with them holds promise of bringing the entire interaction full circle.

“I appreciated the effort they made to find me and thank me. I hope we will have dinner together one day.”

For a Canadian Press Storify presentation of this story click here.

Organizations: New Glasgow Evening News, Daily Mail

Geographic location: New Glasgow, Barrie, U.K. Australia Germany Croatia

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