Alumni

Illustration by Katie McBride
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Friends and strangers share acts of kindness in honor of Bill Stuart at facebook.com/44forbill.

When Amy Stuart, ’94, talks with psychology students at Longwood University about how to help others managing grief and loss, she always starts with a piece of advice.

“Platitudes suck and should be avoided at all costs,” she says. “Don’t say, ‘God needed him more,’ or, ‘He’s in a better place.’ The only thing you need to say to someone is, ‘I’m sorry, this sucks, and what can I do to help?’”

Stuart speaks from experience. She lost her husband of nearly five years, Bill, to a pulmonary embolism in September 2012, and people showed up to help.

“We had food for three months,” she says. “Friends bought us a cleaning service. Neighbors mowed our grass and took our trash cans to the curb.”

As the first anniversary of Bill’s death approached, Stuart wanted to unite everyone who grieved Bill’s loss. She settled on a simple idea: In honor of his age when he died, Stuart encouraged people to do 44 random acts of kindness. She reached out to friends and colleagues at Longwood University. She created a Facebook page where she and her two sons could see how everyone was honoring and celebrating Bill’s legacy.

What began as a way to make a difficult day more manageable has, with the help of social media, turned into a movement. In 2016, more than 10,000 people participated, and Stuart hopes it will continue to grow.

“We didn’t realize until he was gone that Bill was always looking to help others or find a way to make a process or a situation better,” Stuart says. “This is a fitting tribute, and it’s nice for our sons to know that there’s a day each year focused on remembering Bill.”