Twist of Fate: After 7 years, a stranger’s kindness paid back

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"You have no idea what the other person’s story is like. They could be on top of the world. They could be in the toilet. Everybody needs to share kindness."

That is the simple word that Lori Dowd lives by.


Working as a server at Grandma’s Restaurant for the past 16 years, she values building good relationships with customers, because as she says, you never know when one of those encounters will make all the difference. It did for Scott Hussey and his family.

"You know, people can go through their their life and their workday and just do the job," said Scott. "But what what was remarkable about Lori was that she shows up. she shows up for every table. It was amazing, absolutely amazing that one person that didn’t even know who we were could absolutely change our lives so dramatically."

Dramatically and for the better in a time when they needed it most.

February 2015

As the month began, tragedy struck the Hussey family.

Scott Hussey recieved a call that his younger brother, Tommy, had suffered a major heart attack. He was up in Duluth with his wife and child for a hockey tournament.

While on the phone, Scott’s sister-in-law said they just got his heart going again and were transporting him to St. Mary’s Hospital.

Scott remembers that the call came in around 2:30 in the morning. At 2:35, he was in the car on his way to Duluth from Minneapolis.

Scott Hussey and his family spent the next three days in the Northland at St. Mary’s hospital, waiting at the bedside of their loved one.

"We were physically and emotionally just beaten down. Not a lot of good news was coming," he said.

On Thursday, day four of waiting, the Hussey’s decided to go out dinner at Grandma’s in Canal Park, a short walk from where they were staying.

The group of 12 gathered at Grandma’s, exhausted and aching for a break from their reality.

That’s when they met their server, Lori.

"This evening in question, there was this little boy at the table who was not pleased with me being a part of their evening, there was no eye contact there was just grumbles and shoulder shrugs," Lori recalls. "So I sat next to this little boy and I said, ‘Okay, you can ignore me if you want to, but I want to play I-spy,’ so I said ‘I’ll go first."

After playing a round of eye-spy with the reluctant 10-year-old, Lori left the Hussey’s to continue serving. She remembers a family member of that table walking up to her and explaining their family’s situation.

"It just touched my heart. They were here because a family member was in the hospital and it was the little boy’s dad."

She spent the rest of the evening exclusively serving the Hussey’s, trying to lighten the immense load they all carried with them that night.

"Lori engaged with our family and specifically started with my nephew," said Scott.

One round of I-spy turned into two – and then a game of telephone with the whole family, starting with Scott’s 10 year old nephew, and Tommy’s son, Johnny.

"The game started and Johnny leaned over and whispered to my mom’s husband in his ear and the two of them started belly laughing. I mean, absolute belly laughing," he said.

Scott’s daughter, Tatum Hussey, who is getting ready to graduate high school this year, was turning 11 years old that night. She remembers that birthday well, and how hard it was to be excited about celebrating.

"I was in fifth grade. I had no clue what a coma was, I just knew it wasn’t good," she said.

"I felt like I hadn’t seen a genuine smile for probably two weeks before. We were just playing telephone and it would always go wrong during my grandparent’s connection," Tatum smiled. "It was just hilarious. And I just remember coming out of there and I felt like I could be happy. I felt like I could celebrate more."

Despite the grief they were carrying, Scott said they were all, for just a moment in time, suspended in this little bubble that Lori had put around their family.

His brother, Tommy, passed away the next day.

Thankful for Lori’s role the night before, the Hussey’s delivered a gift to Grandma’s to show their appreciation for her.

"My manager comes up to me and says, ‘You got a box from someone,’" said Lori. "I was like, ‘Okay, that’s that’s weird.’ So I open up the box and it was a necklace that stands for Courageous Friendship."

She recieved that necklace seven years ago and has worn it around her neck every day since.

June 2021

Six-and-a-half years later, the Hussey’s, who now own a cabin in Duluth, were back at Grandma’s in Canal Park for dinner.

They were seated and began talking with their server about their love for the area and the special place Grandma’s held in their hearts. Scott began sharing the story of his younger brother’s passing and his family’s experience at Grandma’s during that time.

As he shared the story, the served took a couple of steps back, clutched her necklace and said in disbelief, "Are you the family?"

"Are you the server?" Scott asked. At that moment, Lori took out her necklace and said that she was.

"I got out of my chair, and now there’s a little kerfuffle among the family because I am sobbing," he said.

Over the past few years, Lori had been dealing with health issues of her own that changed her appearance, causing the Husseys to not recognize her at first.

"I didn’t know that I would ever see this person again," Scott said. "And here she is waiting on us."

I asked Lori why that necklace was something she kept on all those years. She said her answer with a clear air of confidence, as if it was the simplest question in the world.

"Family is super important to me. And their family was super important to them; we had a connection just immediately. They touched my life as much as I touched theirs."

February 2022

Now, the Hussey family keeps in contact with Lori and stops by to visit whenever they’re in town.

Scott’s wife, Greer, says that for them, Lori is their very own local celebrity.

"We’re like team Lori. so we’re sitting at Grandma’s like ‘Oh watch her! Look at her go, look at her go!’"

As Lori deals with her illness, the Husseys are a part of the picture to support her in the same way she did for them.

"There’s never been a time like this where you just need goodness and you need kindness," said Greer. "To know that even if we’re behind masks or we can’t hug each other, to not give up, that those connections are everything."

Lori agrees. "It is hard to open yourself up and to take a chance, but, oh, my gosh, it feels so good. Even if you just get one person to smile because of you. That’s awesome."

Video: Photojournalist Nick Johnson

Editing: Photojournalist Kyle Aune