Stories of Kindness from Around the World

An Act of Kindness in 1988

--by beastly, posted Oct 10, 2008
ÅSGÅRDSTRAND (VG): Mary was a newlywed and ready to move to Norway, but was stopped at the airport because she didn’t have enough money for the trip. Then a stranger turned up and paid for her.

Mary Menth Andersen was 31 years old at the time and had just married Norwegian Dag Andersen. She was looking forward to starting a new life in Åsgårdstrand in Vestfold with him. But first she had to get all of her belongings across to Norway. The date was November 2nd, 1988.

At the airport in Miami things were hectic as usual, with long lines at the check-in counters.

When it was finally Mary’s turn and she had placed her luggage on the baggage line, she got the message that would crush her bubbling feeling of happiness: "You’ll have to pay a 103 dollar surcharge if you want to bring both those suitcases to Norway, the man behind the counter said."

Mary had no money. Her new husband had travelled ahead of her to Norway, and she had no one else to call.  "I was completely desperate and tried to think which of my things I could manage without. But I had already made such a careful selection of my most prized possessions," says Mary.

Although she explained the situation to the man behind the counter, he showed no signs of mercy.  "I started to cry, tears were pouring down my face and I had no idea what to do. Then I heard a gentle and friendly voice behind me saying, 'That’s OK, I’ll pay for her.'"

Mary turned around to see a tall man whom she had never seen before. "He had a gentle and kind voice that was still firm and decisive. The first thing I thought was, 'Who is this man?'" 

Although this happened 20 years ago, Mary still remembers the authority that radiated from the man.  "He was nicely dressed, fashionably dressed with brown leather shoes, a cotton shirt open at the throat and khaki pants," says Mary.  She was thrilled to be able to bring both her suitcases to Norway and assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a piece of paper that he gave to Mary. She thanked him repeatedly. When she finally walked off towards the security checkpoint, he waved goodbye to her.

The piece of paper said ‘Barack Obama’ and his address in Kansas, which is the state where his mother comes from. Mary carried the slip of paper around in her wallet for years, before it was thrown out.

"He was my knight in shining armor," says Mary, smiling.

She paid the 103 dollars back to Obama the day after she arrived in Norway. At that time he had just finished his job as a poorly paid community worker in Chicago, and had started his law studies at prestigious Harvard university.

In the spring of 2006 Mary’s parents had heard that Obama was considering a run for president, but that he had still not decided. They chose to write a letter in which they told him that he would receive their votes. At the same time, they thanked Obama for helping their daughter 18 years earlier.

In a letter to Mary’s parents dated May 4th, 2006 and stamped ‘United States Senate, Washington DC’, Barack Obama writes: "I want to thank you for the lovely things you wrote about me and for reminding me of what happened at Miami airport. I’m happy I could help back then, and I’m delighted to hear that your daughter is happy in Norway. Please send her my best wishes. Sincerely, Barack Obama, United States senator"

The parents sent the letter on to Mary.

This week [we] met her and her husband in the café that she runs with her friend Lisbeth Tollefsrud in Åsgårdstrand.  "It’s amazing to think that the man who helped me 20 years ago could become the next US president," says Mary delightedly.

[Originally printed in VG newspaper in Norway; translated by Leisha Camden.]
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Readers Comments

Joisse wrote: The "surcharge" could be for extra weight, as their were weight limits and also could be because of flying a foreign airline overseas. I remember long lines at ticket counters before the days of buying tickets online.
Eve, Melbourne Australia wrote: I got the feeliing that obama was the right man to lead america from the first time i saw him. What a human being he is. But i do fear for his safety what with all those negative types there, with their guns and their neo-nazi ideas. I hope that he lives a full and helping life running your country. Oh, if only all countries were led by such humanitarians!
charles sanford wrote: I agree this storie is fishy
It is a shame, i would really be interested in knowing of kind deeds of any candidate.

I did not vote for obama mainly for the sake of his wife and kids and i wondered why anyone would subject them to what is now their future
davideyoung wrote: Something does not ring true about this story - although the newspaper in norway clearly believes mary's story. In 1988, there was no homeland security department. Airlines were doing very well. You could wait for your loved ones at the exit of the planes in the terminals. Baggage surcharges for 2 bags did not exist. There was little limit to the amount of baggage you could check except for the size of the bags, and they allowed much bigger then than they do now.

Baggage surcharges were introduced in the usa in 2002. Today, nearing 2009, the average surcharge is $10 to $30. This surcharge we now have with some airlines today is to pay for the high price of fuel with a major loss in ridership with the economic downturn since the attacks in 2001, and to pay for the new homeland security department presence and rules the airlines must now abide by. None of that was foreseen in 1988 by any airline.

I find it convenient that there is no mention of any specific airline to verify that such a surcharge existed. I did speak with miami airport, where it supposedly happened. Here is what they told me:

"of the airlines that serviced norway in 1988, none taht we know of placed that kind of surcharge on baggage. It would be extremely fishy for any airline in 1988 to have sone so on anything less than five bags, and even then, a surcharge of more that $100 would have been unheard of and very strange. We believe this story can not possibly be true. "
pattycakes wrote: This is why senator obama needs to be our next president he cares about people
brithia wrote: Go obama! He roks and anyone who doesn't vote for him is the most idiotic person ever!
Rosemary Onodera wrote: I am multi-racial, born of a japanese father and a kenyan mother. I can relate to obama`s life, growing up trying to discover your true identity. I believe that his past has made him the strong, intelligent leader he is now. I am praying for him because he deserves to lead america.
Rev Vernon wrote: I echo the words of colin powell when he endorsed barack obama. In times of greatest need, god sends a great servant/leader, at this time, this is the man chosen to be the healer of an ailing world.
alphonso wrote: Some would think that obama's gesture was extraordinary, but time and time again he has demonstrated that is not the case. He is genuine and he is who he says he is, its time for us to catch up with him.
Nelly wrote: Am a kenyan and a luo from obama's roots. He is a real gentleman and i wonder hw his opponents associate him with terrorist. With all he has achieved, u will be suprised coz when he visit his family in kenya,he dines with them on the same table and even spend his nights in luo traditional hut "simba". Obama fits everywhere and we pray that he takes the presidency. Americans should know that he is a god sent leader,pls vote for him coz he deserves it.

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