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How giving can keep giving

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What I love about the news business are stories that keep unfolding and with each turn become more remarkable. This is one of them.

It begins with the Warwick Rotary Club and its effort to raise funds for its charitable foundation, and comes full circle with the charitable ways of an 89-year-old who will turn 90 on Christmas Day.

To raise funds, the Warwick Rotary Club connected with Balise Toyota and set out to sell 600 tickets at $100 each in a chance drawing for a Toyota. Selling $100 tickets, even when the prize is a new car, isn’t an easy task. The club worked hard at it. The car was parked at various locations such as the Warwick Mall. Club members sold tickets to friends and they were made available at the offices of the Beacon and Global Excellence in Apponaug.

Even so, the club was not able to sell enough tickets to surpass the 300 minimum for the car raffle. But sales surpassed the 150 threshold at which the money would be returned. Instead of a car raffle, there would be a drawing for $10,000, which was held Thursday night at Chelo’s.

A barrel on loan from the Warwick Boys and Girls Club was filled with plastic drug prescription containers, each containing the name of a ticket holder and their phone number. Club president Oliver Brady turned the barrel, setting up a clatter of plastic containers. So as to ensure no conflict of interest, the manager of Chelo’s came forward and pulled out a single container, handing it to Oliver.

Out came a slip of paper bearing the name of Madeline Hopkins. The writing bore a striking resemble to that of Sue Howarth in our office. Sue managed the ticket sales, but why would she have written someone else’s name on the ticket?

Ollie pulled out his cell phone and called the number on the ticket. No one answered, and over the next 12 hours he tried various combinations of the numbers figuring they had been jumbled. He didn’t connect with Madeline.

Then Thursday afternoon, Dorothy Griffin couldn’t bear the suspense any longer and called the Beacon to get the winner’s name. Tim Forsberg took the call, and when he said Madeline, Dorothy let out an excited shriek. Madeline, who is 16 and a junior at La Salle Academy, is her granddaughter. Dorothy is soon to be 86.

But that’s just part of the story.

Follow the thread and it take you back 10 years when Madeline was 6 and her sister, Sophia, was 4.

Twenty-one years ago, Dorothy lost her husband, Richard, a member of the Warwick Police Department. After Richard’s death, Dorothy had no interest in a relationship, but about 11 years ago she realized Al Morin, a fellow parishioner at St. Rita’s Church, was going through a tough time following his wife’s death. When the two realized they both planned to go blueberry picking, they decided to go together.

Soon thereafter, Madeline and Sophia drew up a scroll announcing they were adopting Al as their grandfather.

As Dorothy relates, this was big for Al. He took his appointed position very seriously. He even named his fishing boat “So Mad” for Sophia and Madeline, although the name took some explaining. Over the years he’s helped with the girls’ tuition – both are La Salle students – and is especially attentive to the family. So, when he saw the Rotary car raffle advertised in the Beacon, he thought of Dorothy and Madeline. He knew Dorothy could use a new car and that Madeline spent her summer working three jobs in an effort to save enough money to get her own wheels. Al, who is that 89-year-old I mentioned, stopped by the Beacon and bought tickets for Dorothy and Madeline. Sue filled out the tickets, only Al gave her Madeline’s old phone number.

Dorothy was surprised to learn Al had bought the tickets. Wasn’t this a bit impetuous? Two hundred dollars is a lot of money. She showed the tickets to Madeline and figured if she won the car she’d give her car to Madeline. By Friday, when neither of them had gotten a call, she assumed someone else must be the winner.

That’s when she called the Beacon and the pieces started coming together.

She told me the story of Al buying the tickets, so I asked for his number.

“You won’t be able to reach him,” she said, “he’s at the gym.”

“At nearly 90?”

“Oh yes, “she answered, “He goes three times a week to keep fit.”

Al stopped in on his way home from the fitness center and Dorothy gave him the news. She then called Madeline and asked her to come over. Madeline didn’t know what to expect. The ticket wasn’t on her mind.

Al told her she was the winner of 10 grand. Dorothy got the photo on her cell phone with Madeline covering her face in disbelief.

I met the trio Saturday at Dorothy’s house. Al was in a recliner. He has difficulty getting around and as it turns out spends a fair amount of his time at Dorothy’s, although he usually heads home by 9 p.m. even if it means interrupting a Patriot’s game.

“What are the neighbors going to say?” Dorothy explains.

“She’s my guardian angel,” Al answered.

Madeline didn’t know what to think of her good fortune. With the money saved from her summer jobs at a doctor’s office, Café Tempo, and Dear Hearts Ice Cream and the $10,000 she figures she can get a good car. Al reminded her to save enough to pay for insurance. That’s what grandfathers do.

“My mother said I’m lucky, I was born on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Dorothy gave Al a glance.

She reminded me Al was born on Christmas Day.

“He’s the real Santa,” she said.

She’s right.

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