Nova Scotia

Gerard Dunn, whose birthday card bonanza lit up the internet, has passed away

Gerard Dunn received cards and letters from around the world for his birthday last year. While he passed away Monday night, his daughter said his kindness and fun personality will live on through the people he touched.

After living a beautiful life, the 92-year-old Cape Bretoner died 'a beautiful death,' daughter says

Gerard Dunn, of Sydney N.S., going through some of the 4,500 cards and letters he received for his 92nd birthday. He passed away Monday night. (Submitted by Miriam Dunn)

A man from Sydney, N.S., whose story touched the world and inspired thousands of people to mail him birthday cards passed away peacefully on Monday evening, according to his daughter.

Gerard Dunn, who was 92, made national headlines last fall when his daughter's tweet asking for birthday cards went viral, amassing over 21,000 shares and sparking a deluge of 4,500 cards to his Cape Breton home.

His daughter, Miriam Dunn, said her father recently caught a "bit of a cold," which then turned into pneumonia. The disease took a toll on him, and he later died in a Halifax hospital.

But just two weeks ago, he was still playing piano and entertaining, full of spirit and life.

"He lit up the world, and everybody wanted to be near him," said his daughter. "Everybody wanted to be with him, doing whatever he was doing. He made everything fun."

Miriam says this photo is her and her dad's last picture together. (Submitted by Miriam Dunn)
 

Gerard lived in Sydney all his life. He worked at the post office, briefly served in the Second World War, and was a talented pianist.

He was also sensitive. Back in October, while all of his birthday cards were still coming in, Gerard told CBC News he was looking forward to going through them all — but not too quickly.

"I got my winter's enjoyment all planned, " he said at the time. "I'll have to wait until I calm down … I couldn't do it now, I break up too easily. I'm a softie."

As much as he loved making friends and entertaining, Miriam said her father's greatest love was for his family.

She said he was a wonderful father to her and her six siblings.

"He played silly word games, and entertained us when we were taking long drives, and he would make an igloo, or build us a kite, or build things in the backyard to swing on," she recalled. 

"He was very involved, and he was very merry, and happy — happy to be around us, and made us feel happy to be around him."

Miriam says she's glad her dad inspired so many people to pick up a pen and write a card or letter. (Submitted by Miriam Dunn)
 

Gerard's wife, Ellen, passed away in March 2018, also of pneumonia. In her life, and after her death, Gerard "absolutely adored her," said Miriam.

"He acted, until their last days together, as though he was courting her," she said. "He never took her for granted, and she adored him just as much."

She said that as a little girl and as a young woman, she used to ask her parents about the secret to a happy marriage.

Miriam said her mother would say "kindness," and her father would say "consideration." 

"They were very loving and affectionate, and just beautiful. [They] treated each other beautifully," she said.

"They are back together again. He was looking forward to seeing her."

Gerard and his late wife, Ellen. Miriam says her dad was looking forward to seeing her again. (Submitted by Miriam Dunn)
 

Miriam said that even a year after she put out the request for people to send cards to her father, they continued to come in regularly.

She added she's happy that her father inspired so many people to pick up pens and write.

"He was just a great man, and he was destined for greatness," she said. "And now everybody can know how extraordinary he was. He was just bigger than life."

They weren't just generic birthday cards. People opened up about their lives, asked him for advice, and sometimes even sent presents.

He loved them all, telling CBC News last fall: "It just amazes me and I'm so thankful."

'It was a beautiful death'

Miriam's father still had all the cards he got for his birthday last year. She even read some to him while he was in the hospital.

Since his death, Miriam said she received hundreds of messages from people who participated in his birthday — many messages of condolences, but also many messages of thanks.

"Saying, 'Thank you for introducing me to your father,' 'Thank you for allowing the world to know your father,' 'Thank you for letting your father be part of our lives,'" she said. 

"And that is really something special."

Miriam said she's glad her dad got to spend his last moments in peace, surrounded by the people he loved most, and who loved him the most.

"He was so relaxed, and so looking forward to seeing mom, and we were all with him," said his daughter. 

"And it was a beautiful death."

About the Author

Alex Cooke

Reporter/editor

Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca.

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