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Priest inspired by final request gives flowers to strangers

16 December 2016


AN UNUSUAL request in a death notice in a newspaper inspired a priest in London to go out on the streets to give away flowers to strangers.

“It was a social experiment,” the Assistant Curate at St Luke’s, West Holloway, the Revd Martin Wroe, said. He was spurred to action by the death notice of Jack Webber, a 101­­­-year-old former Royal Navy officer, whom he had never met. It described him as a “charmer, clock-collector, wit, and RN Commander”, and asked people not to send tributes to his fun­eral, but to “give a bunch of flowers to a complete stranger and tell them they’re absolutely marvellous”.

Mr Wroe explained his reaction on Thought for the Day on Radio 4 last week. “Maybe it’s because we’re entering the season of goodwill, but I thought I’d give it a try,” he said. “It’s easier said than done.”

He told how, holding a bunch of carnations, he hesitated before ap­­proaching complete strangers. “I chickened out altogether,” he admit­ted. “It was too weird. What would they take me for?” Eventually, he ap­­proached an elderly man. “‘I’ve a gift for you,’ I said, brandishing my bou­quet. ‘You don’t know me, mate,’ he said. “Reasonably enough, I know.

“I said: ‘But I’ve decided to tell people they’re marvellous and give them some flowers — it’s a long story.’ He looked at me curiously. I understood. ‘Can I give them to my young lady?’ he asked. I agreed. ‘Well, Merry Christmas to you mate,’ he said.”

Mr Wroe then approached a lollipop lady he knew in passing. “Her face lit up as I gave her a bunch of roses. She grab­bed me in a hug, and gave me a kiss. ‘Oh, bless you,’ she said.” Then he met a woman “clearly at her wits’ end”, with her 98-year-old mother. He proffered chrysan­the­mums, and thanked her for looking after her mother. Mr Wroe said: “There’s a Quaker saying that ‘An enemy is a friend whose story we have not heard.’ The same could be true of any stranger.”

This week, he said: “Everybody has their story, don’t they? I felt that people appreciated being noticed. It’s like that Quaker quote: as soon as they explain about their story, you are in their story. In big cities, it is a little bit tricky to cross the threshold into someone else’s life, but, once you do, you often find you are welcome.

“I didn’t know really what to expect. I didn’t expect hostility, but a few times I was thinking: ‘They are going to think I am some kind of hazardous figure.’”

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