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Grieving widower's note to young couple goes viral

Napkin message inspires people around the world

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Lee Ballantyne and his wife, Carol, who recently succumbed to lung cancer.

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Lee Ballantyne and his wife, Carol, who recently succumbed to lung cancer.

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

Lee Ballantyne of Barrie, Ont., has earned praise from around the world after channelling his grief for his recently deceased wife into an act of kindness toward a young couple who reminded him of bygone days.

Ballantyne, former editor of the Belleville Intelligencer and current columnist for the Barrie Advance, 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.

'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'

-- Lee Ballantyne of Barrie, Ont.

The happy pair prompted him to reach out in a way 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 are still rife with posts about Ballantyne, his grief and his good deed.

"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," Ballantyne wrote. "The hundreds of comments since then have, I confess, warmed my heart."

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?"

One particularly meaningful interaction came when the couple who inspired the gesture reached out to thank Ballantyne.

He 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."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2014 A2

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