By Scott Dunham
In 1990, my wife Katie and I were transferred from Maryland to London by an engineering company for which I was working. She was a little worried about moving to a foreign country. Because we had only been married a year, the move could’ve been an additional source of stress.
However, we found a flat in a nice suburb near the Thames River. I started work in my new position, and Katie began getting accustomed to our new habitat. London turned out to be a wonderful place to live. Contrary to their reputation for being somewhat reserved, our neighbors proved to be friendly and quite interested in the new American arrivals.
Although some areas of the city attract large numbers of U.S. expatriates because of the presence of American schools, we lived on a thoroughly English street with turn-of-the-century Victorian houses and many long-term residents. Peter, who lived downstairs, had been in the area for 40 years and knew practically everybody. We became friends, and he hosted frequent chats over tea with Katie and whatever neighbors happened to stop in.
In particular, one fellow named Jim Morton became a regular visitor. He was almost 80, a widower and retired cartoonist with few relatives. He was a delightful man, with many funny stories and a real affinity for people. Although age and arthritis had slowed him down and made cartooning more difficult, he still loved his art.
In 1992, our son was born and Jim began an annual tradition of creating hand-drawn and colored birthday cards for him. Perhaps they were really for us, since Matthew hadn’t quite reached an appreciative age!
Every year Jim hand delivered another special creation, customized for whatever Matthew had been doing lately. The cards clearly took a lot of effort to make, and we were always touched by his thoughtfulness.
In 1995, my company’s contract ended and we had to return to the U.S. Although we were going “home,” Katie and I had extremely mixed feelings about departing. After spending five of our six married years in London, it felt more like home than Maryland. We kept in touch with our English friends, but distance made keeping up with daily events rather difficult.
About a year after we came back, a letter arrived with an unfamiliar return address. Inside was a note from one of Jim’s neighbors, informing us that he had passed away after a household accident.
This complete stranger had taken the initiative to go through Jim’s address book and write individual notes to each person. We were upset about Jim’s death. Yet we were very grateful that someone was kind and concerned enough to make sure that all of his friends and acquaintances knew what had happened.
It was such a simple act, but it showed that Jim was special to others besides us, and that his passing was not left unnoticed.