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One handwritten letter took Miss Northern Ireland’s breath away

By Hannah Goodall

Traditionally Northern Ireland is known as a friendly place, and a recent survey shows that, uniquely in the UK, men and women are equally disposed to acts of kindness.

The survey, by bakery brand Mrs Crimble, revealed that 50% of people said that a man was the kindest person they know.

Some 87% of people questioned also said that they would rather experience an act of kindness than win £10 on the lottery.

So we asked several well-known local people to tell us about the acts of kindness that they will always remember.

Tiffany Brien, (21), Miss Northern Ireland, from Holywood. She says:

I do a lot of fund-raising, especially for the Mark Pollock Trust. I have always known who Mark is as he is a big name in the sailing world and a member of my yacht club. When I heard about his accident, I decided I just wanted to help him, and we have been friends since.

Mark went blind at 22, and after that he became an adventure athlete. He was really into extreme sports and doing all these challenges. Following another accident a couple of years ago, though, he is now completely paralysed from the waist down. Now Mark and I are planning to sail the Irish Sea in aid of his charity and we were both talking about it on Radio Ulster recently.

During the radio interview, I got really emotional about it all, but Mark just took it in his stride; that's just how he is. Three weeks after the radio slot, a letter marked ‘urgent’ arrived at my door. When I opened it there was another smaller letter inside it. It was this lovely hand-written letter from a man called John McLaughlin.

He had lived and worked in Carrickfergus for a number of years, teaching children with special needs how to sail, before moving to America. When he misses home, he streams BBC Radio Ulster and was listening on the day that Mark and I were on.

He was really moved by Mark's story and everything he’d done. Something struck a chord with him. He’d heard me talking about raising £2,000 at a ladies lunch and fashion show I had hosted.

In the letter, he mentioned how happy I had sounded about doing so well and said that he had wanted to match it.

Enclosed with the letter was a cheque for $3,500 (£2,230).

I couldn't believe it; this total stranger, some guy I've never met, that I don't know, by mere chance was listening to the radio that day, just decided to give me all that money. It was phenomenal; I was totally overwhelmed.

John apologised for the letter not being typed, but explained he was on a red-eye flight the next day and wanted to get this to me. It was so sweet. I've told everyone about it. I have the letter in my scrap book now.”

‘Aunts rallied round after my mum’s sudden death’

Emma Heatherington, (36), author of One Night Only, is mum to Jordyn, (16), Jade, (11), and nine-year-old Adam, (9), and lives in Donaghmore. She says:

I was just 15 when my mum, Geraldine, died suddenly. She was 36 years old and it was a total shock as she hadn't been ill.

The day before, she had been going about her usual routine; she'd bought me an art file for my GCSEs and my sister, Vanessa, a tennis racquet for her school sports.

Mum was a woman full of life; she loved to sing and she adored each one of us. She was at home with us while we were growing up, but wanted to become a journalist or a writer once we were all a bit older.

That Saturday morning she said she wasn't feeling well, so asked one of us to get up with the baby, my sister Rebecca, who was eight months old at the time.

Mum had absolutely no symptoms until the day she died when she felt crushing pains in her chest. My father, Hugh McCrory, was at work in Enniskillen when mum took ill. They had been married for 16 years. There weren't any mobile phones then, so it took a while for us to track him down.

We rang mum’s sister Eithna first because mum had told us to. She was in a lot of pain and wanted her sister to be with her. I rang my godmother Kathleen after that because I sensed there was something more serious going on. I watched from a window as they took my mum away in an ambulance. I didn't realise that was the last time I would see her alive.

One of our neighbours drove us up to the hospital where mum's family had already gathered. When the doctor came out into the waiting room to break the news we couldn't believe it. My mother had died not long after arriving in the hospital from a massive heart attack.

I'm the oldest of six children, and I can only speak for myself, but I know we were all scared of a future without our mum. My mother was the youngest of seven girls, so we're a large family.

My aunts, who were grieving in their own hearts and who had families of their own to take care of, really rallied around us though. They were all there for us. We couldn’t have got through it without them.

It was a life changing moment. Family and friends gathered around us to support us, to support my dad especially. My mother's funeral took place on his 41st birthday. My dad was in terrible shock for a long time. He was utterly devastated. He had lost his life partner and the mother of his children and he had no idea what way to turn.

Dad is a very strong man and given everything that life has thrown at him he has done a fantastic job with coping. We are all very close to him and go to his house every Sunday so he can cook us a big family dinner.

When Mum died my aunts really came together to support us. I only found out recently that the eldest of my mum’s sisters, my aunt Mary, actually drew up a rota for the first year to share out the support my aunts were giving us. As the two eldest, myself and my sister Vanessa took on a lot of the responsibility. We tried to keep as a normal a routine as possible for our younger brother and sisters. I recall my aunt Eithna would make us dinner and make sure I was studying for my exams and then rush home to do the same for her own children.

She had the six of us and my dad for Christmas dinner that year too, on top of her own family. Everything really was all hands on deck after mum died. Everybody pitched in and one of our cousins even gave up her entire summer to stay with us.

My aunt Mary took over the care of baby Rebecca, but made sure we all had a say in her care.

We were always a close family, but I think the strength shown by my aunts gave my dad and the six of us the strength to get through those early stages.

I'm 36 now, the same age my mum was when she passed, and it's only now that I realise how much of a tragedy it was. I'm a mother of three now myself and my eldest, my daughter Jordyn, is 16. I just can't imagine not being there for them. I have to say, if it wasn't for the kindness my aunts showed us back then we would have had a much bigger struggle on our hands. They knew when to step in and when to step back.

They did really go the extra mile for us and they still do. They've all done their best for us. They've given us, me included, a total lifetime of kindness.”

‘My guardian angel after I lost my baby’

Cathy Martin, (38), managing director of CMPR and mum to 6-month-old Valentina, lives in Helen’s Bay with husband Julian Jordan, (42), a business man, and three step-children Johnny, (17), Sasha, (13) and 12-year-old Elisa. She says:

The kindest thing anyone has ever done for me actually happened last year. I was in hospital at the time, I had just suffered a still birth. The baby had been a girl called Rosie. I was upset, obviously and I was alone.

There was another woman in the hospital, she was a patient as well. She was on another ward but, she was in the room next to me and, she just listened to me really.

The night it happened she heard me crying and came into my room. She was an ear, a shoulder to cry on in all honesty. She just came in and sat there and listened to me talk.

Not to belittle my own mother in anyway but, she was like a mother, a sister, a friend and a a nurse and counsellor all rolled into one. She was just very consoling. She was there when I needed someone to be there.

The next day she had got me a gift as I was leaving the hospital. I went over to ask her her name. She didn’t tell me. All she said was ‘we don’t need to know each other’s names, I just wanted to be there for you’.

I think she knew if we had exchanged details that we would never have kept in touch. Life carries you away and people drift apart. She wasn’t trying to be my best friend or anything either.

I'm a really positive person and I try to surround myself with positive people. She was just such a lovely lady and she was there for me at a really important moment, when I needed someone to listen to me and be a shoulder to cry on. She was a guardian angel.”

‘He left me a present of my favourite things’

Oonagh Boman, (45), is mum to Skye, (14), and Brad, (10). A make-up artist and owner of the Oonagh Boman School of Make-up, she lives in Lisburn with husband Leslie Graham, (32). She says:

My husband Leslie did the nicest thing for me before we were married. I was having a really stressful time at work and recall coming home from work one day to find this little bag on the doorstep. Leslie had left it there and on it he had written ‘Oonagh repair kit'. Well, I saw it and I just burst into tears.

When I looked inside the bag, he had put all these things that I just love in it. There was an aromatherapy candle, a Tubular Bells CD, a Baileys miniature and Thornton’s cappuccino chocolates.

He had to go into town to different shops to get each small item. He went to all that effort and picked everything out himself. He wasn't there to receive any of my gratitude and he wasn't doing it for brownie points either. It was just so thoughtful.

It wasn't a case of him saying to me ‘I’ll treat you to dinner' or ‘I'll take you out for a drink', he did this instead just to cheer me up because he knew how rundown I was.

I rang my friend to tell her what Leslie had done. I was in tears down the phone. She actually thought Leslie and I had split up.”

‘Help with broken down car’

Broadcaster Pete Snodden, (32), lives in Bangor with his wife Julia, (32), a microbiologist and 16-month-old daughter Ivana. He says:

I was driving from Belfast to Bangor one night at rush-hour. The traffic was bad and the next thing I knew my car came to a stop, I'd run out of petrol. I was in the outside lane and I didn't know what I was going to do. I was so embarrassed. People were driving past me and honking their horns at me. I was sitting in the outside lane and I just thought I have to get my car over to the kerb on the other side. I was pushing my car all on my tod and this guy stopped and gave me a hand.

I mean at rush hour, from Belfast to Bangor I was sure the traffic was starting to tail back all the way to Belfast but he stopped anyway.

We pushed my car over the two lanes to the kerb on the other side. The guy recognised me too, I was so scundered.

It was really nice for that guy to stop to help me. I mean hundreds of cars must have driven right past me and not one of them thought to stop but, he did.

As embarrassed as I was I was really glad he stopped to help me, it was really cool of him.”

‘Brother said it with flowers’

Marcus Hunter Neill (30) is a make-up artist and entertainer, who lives in Belfast. He says:

My brother Aarone has done a lot for me. He lives in Canada with his partner and on the night of my very first fashion show, which I did in drag, Aarone and his partner sent me a bunch of yellow roses.

I had been working with a skin care company and was organising a Real Women’s fashion event, which was the first of its kind in Belfast, and meant to be a small outing — but it took on a life of its own.

The stores taking part had to be able to cater for women from size six to 24, ages 19-64 and of all heights. Originally it was only meant to be for 70 people, but it just blew up. People kept calling and wanting tickets until we had about 500 people turning up.

I ended up having to move the event to the ballroom in the Ramada Hotel. There had been a wedding in the ballroom the day before, so I was able to use all the flowers and things from it. I was on a complete high that night and it ended up being just a brilliant event.

The roses arrived backstage and to be honest, I thought they were for the stage. So I brought them out and set them up just before people started to arrive. I then got this text from my brother saying ‘how’s the very funny girl?' and he asked if I had gotten the flowers yet.

When I realised they were for me, I nearly died. I had to go back out onto the stage in front of people and get them. There was a card on the flowers that read ‘to a very funny girl'. The significance of that and what was written on the card is because the film ‘Funny Girl' is my favourite film. I love everything about it. The songs, the clothes, just everything.

My brother was so annoyed he was missing it, as he couldn’t get home on time, so it was really nice of him to send flowers.”

Are we running out of kindness?

A survey carried out by bakery brand, Mrs Crimble’s showed:

  • People aged 16-24, 45-54 and 65-plus were all more than twice as likely to name a woman rather than a man as the kindest person they knew
  • 40% of us think the country has become less (rather than more) kind and friendly over the last 20 years.
  • Despite that, the survey showed that nearly half of us agreed with an OECD survey last year which named Britain as being one of the five kindest countries in the world.
  • The most common obstacle to kindness today is lack of time ( 58%), lack of money (39%), lack of energy (38%), wariness of strangers (32%) and stress (31%).

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