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Richmond Woman Celebrates a Birthday Filled With Gifts in Reverse

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On her 57th birthday, Maryann Cox decided to celebrate thusly:

She left flowers on random porches. Picked up litter while walking the dog. Bought coffee for people in line behind her. Slipped Target gift cards into shoppers' carts. Handed Kroger cards to the homeless. Wrote letters to people in her life telling them how important they were to her.

Fifty-seven gestures of generosity made within two weeks of her birthday. She remained anonymous when she could, attaching a little explanation note to the gifts.

"I was at Target and I saw her drop something in my cart," Kimmy Lenwell says. "At first, I thought she was dropping trash in there, but it was $10 gift card. It was such a nice surprise." In the spirit of "paying it forward," Lenwell says she gave the card to someone who needed it more.

"I wish I could say I thought of it myself," says Cox, but she read about it on a young woman's blog. "She was 29, so that was easier."

This year, for her 58th, Cox decided to keep the gestures simple, but to start big with the message. Big as in billboard-sized. You may have seen it. It went up March 10 on West Broad just east of Hamilton Street.

It reads: "'Once you've heard their story, there isn't anyone you couldn't love.' Ask someone their story today."

The quote is an adaptation of one from nun and author Mary Lou Kownacki, "There isn't anyone you couldn't love once you've heard their story," It's Cox's favorite, and one that Fred Rogers, or Mr. Rogers from the kids' television show, kept in his wallet. Cox came across it in his book "The World According to Mr. Rogers."

"Not to sound corny, but it would be so lovely if people just stopped to think about the stories of others, about what might be going on in their lives," says Cox, who is a psychotherapist. "I love that quote. I think it's so beautiful. It's just like, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were tripping over each other to be kind?'"

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