“It’s about making the most of every single day, because no one knows how long you might have or if your life might end tomorrow — and for me that’s about making others happy.” Those are the words of Herman Gordon, a custodian at Bristol University.
Herman was born in Jamaica and emigrated to Britain when he was 13 years old along with his siblings in 1967 to join their parents who had already moved to the UK.
“I didn’t want to come to Britain. It was so cold I had to wear my pajamas under my new school uniform,’ he admits. “But now Britain feels like home to me.”
Herman always kept an attitude of gratitude and looked for ways to create special moments for the people around him. When he met his wife Denise, they spent a lot of time with people experiencing homelessness. They gave them as much food and provisions as they could, and kept them company on the streets.
“He is the most loving and caring man I have ever met. When we first met, he told everyone ‘I have found my Queen’ — and he has made me feel like royalty ever since. Each morning, he wakes me with a kiss and tells me he loves me. Every day, he’s up at 5am to get ready for work. He never grumbles or complains, but feels incredibly grateful to be able to work. He is very bold, outgoing and jolly,” says Denise.
In 2006, Herman was very suddenly laid off from his car manufacturing job. Not long after that, he suffered a stroke. Still, he kept a positive outlook, and was grateful to have a second chance at life. A few months later, he was well enough to work as a custodian at Bristol University. There, Herman made a point to brighten the days of as many students as possible.
“I love to chat with the students, about the weather or football, and sometimes I even help with their studies,” says Herman. “I left school at 15 with no exams, so I always tell the students here ‘Do your best and don’t let me down. Exams are important, so I encourage them, but so, too, are the little things in life.”
“I never disrupt their learning, but they are always coming over to talk to me. Sometimes the library staff have to tell them to leave me alone so I can get on with my work, but I love those kids and care about them.”
Appreciation for Herman’s special bond with the Bristol students started buzzing among the young people. After one student posted about how much they appreciated seeing Herman in the hallways and getting a fistbump and a smile, many others realized they weren’t alone in how much of a positive presence he was.
Soon, an anonymous Facebook user set up a JustGiving page for Herman with the hopes of showing their appreciation for him. Before they knew it, 230 students had raised £1500 (about $2000 USD)! They put the gift into an envelope along with the message: “You have brightened many of our days, and we want you to know that we love and appreciate you. We have come together to give you a special gift as our way of saying thank you. Have a lovely summer!” and surprised Herman with it at the campus.
Herman recalls being completely blindsided by their generosity. “I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was in complete shock. It was the last thing I’d been expecting. It was one of the most humbling moments of my life and I had tears streaming down my face. I don’t know why they did it, but it was an amazing thing to do.”
Right away he called Denise and told her they would be able to go on a very special trip for their 23rd wedding anniversary. Denise says, ‘It’s so amazing what these students have done for him. They are the real heroes in this story. Despite all their worries over their exams, and the financial pressures they face, they decided to do something very special for another person. When Herman rang to tell me, he was crying so much he could barely get the words out. It just goes to show that it’s the little things in life that really matter. Telling a joke or a riddle to brighten someone’s day can really make a difference when they are struggling.”
Herman and Denise ended up booking a 2-night trip to Sandals in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and a 10-day stay with family in Kingston and they had a blast!
“Everybody will see this and think that I’m a trillionaire,” says Herman.
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