The daughter of Florida man Gerard Dunn made a post on Twitter asking people to send her father a card for his 92nd birthday. She figured a dozen would come in. Over 4,500 did.
Gerard Dunn would sit in his chair and listen for the squeak of the mail slot. It became the highlight of his day after Ellen — his wife of six decades — died.
Last fall, just before Gerard's 92nd birthday, and his first without Ellen, his daughter Miriam had an idea. She posted a tweet asking people to send her father a "note, card, picture, map, or story." As for anyone interested in sending a gift, well, he liked "duct tape, colored socks, chocolate and puzzles."
Miriam figured she might get a dozen retweets. And then the darnedest thing happen. She woke up the next day to 20,000 retweets. That was about the time she said to Gerard, "Dad, you're going to be getting a lot of mail."
But even she never dreamed how much.
ATTENTION FRIENDS: Since Mom died this past Spring, my 92 YO dad waits for mail every day. Listens for the squeak of the mail slot opening. His BDAY is Oct. Please mail a note, card, picture, map or story to
96 Summerhill Avenue
Sydney, Nova Scotia
Gerard received more than 4,500 cards, many of them handmade, virtually all with sentiments written on them, and they came from all over the world. By the time the story got out, the man who listened for the mail slot to open was an internet sensation, a testament to the kindness of people, their desire to connect with others and even that the internet can be used for something other than spewing hatred. Who knew?
One lady had bought a birthday card for her 92-year-old father but he died before she could give it to him. So she sent it to Gerard instead and said her father would “be so honored.’’ Hundreds of school kids wrote him. Cadets at a military academy shared intimate thoughts about the rigors of their training with him. He read them all too, and did so without glasses. He displayed as many as he could around his house. Don't even ask about the mailman.
"There were people making a connection, a real connection, with a stranger that was intimate and important," Miriam Dunn said.
And it wasn't just cards either. All kinds of gifts poured in. One man sent a collection of jazz records he had inherited from his father. Someone from Scotland sent shortbread and Glasgow Celtic Whiskey. Someone even sent a nude painting.
Gerard Dunn had seven children, worked for the postal system, briefly served in World War II and lived most of his life in Nova Scotia with Ellen. For over 30 years they spent their winters in Sarasota. He often played piano at community events and was known to many as "Jerry the Piano Man."
He died of pneumonia on Sept. 16, exactly one month before his 93rd birthday.
And what has been happening since his death is almost as remarkable as what happened before it. Miriam has been receiving cards and letters, not of condolence but of celebration. Many have thanked her for sharing her father with the world.
People have been changing their habits, she said. One person in their 40s wrote Miriam and said they sent their parents a card for the first time ever. Schools have started programs where students write letters to seniors. One lady who wrote Gerard once a month sent flowers to his funeral.
Miriam started something called "Mail for Love" and makes posts on the internet. Recently a widow had to put a cat down so Miriam asked if people could send her a card. Maybe a dozen came in, but that's all that were needed.
You never know who is sitting out there, just waiting for the squeak of the mail slot.
And how happy it makes them to hear it.
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.