If the world can often seem cruel, mean-spirited, and screwed-up, a story from the UK may restore a little of your faith in humanity. It will definitely warm your heart.
The best kind of media storm blew up after staff at a charity shop for St Gemma’s Hospice in Garforth, West Yorkshire, discovered they had been donated a 1950s ivory lace wedding dress.
It came with this note attached to it: “I wish any lady who takes this dress to have a life with her loved one, 56 years like I did, happy years. I was a lucky man to marry a lady like mine.”
The gentleman who donated the dress—his wife’s wedding dress—and St. Gemma’s did not anticipate “the international frenzy,” as the hospice put it, that has ensued encompassing not just the British press, but also from media outlets in the US and Australia.
At the time of writing at least, the 85-year-old man, whose beloved wife died four years ago, wants to remain anonymous, despite the media feverishly trying to find out who he is. St. Gemma’s has now put the dress up for auction on eBay.
The charity itself knows the gentleman’s identity , as it revealed in a Facebook posting: “He is a big fan of St Gemma’s Hospice and is overwhelmed with the International attention that his late wife’s dress is generating. He is so happy and proud that the Hospice will benefit from funds raised by the auction of the dress…We have thanked him so much for his kindness and he would like to thank everyone for their support.”
“It is utterly unprecedented,” Nicola Woodgate, a spokesperson for St. Gemma’s told the Daily Beast. “For a relatively small charity in the suburbs of Yorkshire to get this kind of exposure after placing a relatively innocent social media post on Monday is amazing. It just shows the power of digital media.”
Ms. Woodgate told the Daily Beast the gentleman was born and raised in Leeds, married his wife in Leeds, and raised his family there too. He lives in Garforth, and is a big fan of the charity shop, often popping in to chat to the volunteers.
“His neighbors have been knocking on his door to ask him whether how famous he realized he had become,” Ms. Woodgate said. “He’s absolutely delighted that the hospice is getting so much attention, and raising much-needed money.”
The dress—26-inch waist, 34-inch bust— is in good condition, the hospice says in its eBay description: “Overall this dress is in great condition for its age. There are no visible holes or tears in the fabric and there is no apparent discoloration. There are some rust marks on the sleeve from the buttons and some marks under the armpits of the under layer (these are not visible when the lace is over the top) and some very faint marks on the lace around the armpit and towards the bottoms of the netted skirt. There is a large stain on the bottom layer of the skirt, however this is again not visible when the netting is over the top.”
Ms. Woodgate said the gentleman felt it had been “the right time” to donate the dress. “He’s really pleased that it will have a legacy. The dress has got very happy memories for him. He has talked to his children at length about it. His daughters are all married, there is no-one in his immediate family who could make use of the dress. For him, it has always been part of a special journey, and now it is going on a new journey. He hopes it will be bought by a new bride, or have some other joyous, positive outcome.”
Bids for the dress had reached £585.99 ($910.24) by Thursday afternoon, with over seven days of the eBay auction left to go. Ms. Woodgate said, as well as the bidding—which she expects to reach into several hundreds—the charity has also seen a marked uptick in donations generally, as more people visit the eBay page, and read the gentleman’s moving note.
The gentleman wants to remain anonymous because Ms. Woodgate said, “he’s 85, and it really might be a bit too much for him to be embroiled in an international media frenzy.”
Ms. Woodgate calls the gentleman regularly to update him on the dress’s bidding progress and international media interest. “He’s flabbergasted. For him, the dress generating hundreds of pounds, or causing this amount of fuss, never crossed his mind. He asked if the dress was ‘up to £20 ($31.07),’ as he put it. I told him, at that point, it was £350 ($543.67). ‘You must be mad, woman!’ he said. ‘That would have paid for my whole wedding!’”