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Bank accepts contributions from 32963 readers; marks Simpson mortgage paid

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of January 2, 2014)
Photo: Kristen Simpson during the much-anticipated signing.

In the golden glow of candlelight on the night of Dec. 23, a beaming Kristen Simpson explained what it felt like to be handed the deed to the home she had been so close to losing – the home on Fiddlewood she shared with her late husband, Brian, and their two children for almost two decades. “When you go through the most horrible unexpected thing like Brian’s being killed here, it creates the fear that, no matter what you expect, everything can go wrong. So, even though I was told the kids and I wouldn’t have to leave our home after the money was raised, I couldn’t be sure – I couldn’t really feel relief – until now,” she explained.

The relief – in the form of actually signing the documents transferring the deed to her home – finally came last week thanks to a heart-warming chain of events that began in late summer.

At the end of August, readers of Vero Beach 32963 learned that Kristen and the children would lose the home because she was unable to continue paying the monthly mortgage with her teacher’s salary, after husband Brian was shot to death there by a home invader in November 2011.

Concerned readers called and asked what they could do to help, which resulted in the formation of  the 32963 Simpson Home Fund at Marine Bank. It began with a $5,000 contribution from Vero Beach 32963 in September and was overseen by CPA Clay Price at Rehmann.

Contributions poured in, from $5 to $100,000.  A woman walked into the bank with a $5 bill. People dropped checks and cash off at 32963’s offices. Kristen’s mailman sold honey from his hives. A local musician sold CDs. A restaurant owner contributed a nightly percentage of the gross. John’s Island residents joined together to contribute tens of thousands of dollars. Other communities added thousands.

A retired teacher from Wisconsin, who gave $100, spoke for all of the contributors when she said,” We want to turn a house that became a monument to tragedy into a symbol of the love that so many of us feel for the Simpson family. We want to drive by that house and feel proud and warmed by it, not chilled.”

Saving the Simpson home became a huge community effort, and Kristen Simpson and her kids saw it for exactly what it was: A movement of love and goodwill aimed at  turning pain into healing.

The 32963 Simpson Home Fund reached more than $220,000 in only three weeks – the amount required by Chase Bank to deed the home to Kristen. Family attorney Brian Connelly worked with a Chase attorney in Atlanta to complete the paperwork.

But, when October became November and November became December and the deal was yet to be done because of dozens of niggling details, a generous barrier island contributor quietly intervened with calls to friends who are top executives at Chase in New York.

“You have to get this done by Christmas for Kristen and the kids,” said the local guardian angel, who asked not to be named.

And, on Dec. 23, they granted her request.

Kristen interrupted her errands and rushed home in the early evening. She put on a festive red satin blouse, which she hadn’t had the heart to wear since Brian’s death.  She got out his favorite glasses, monogrammed with his initials, and a bottle of wine.

Daughter Samantha, 17, and son Scott, 16, hurried home from meetings. Price, the accountant from Rehmann, arrived with his wife. Connelly showed up with the papers. Vero Beach 32963 publisher Milton R. Benjamin arrived to witness the much-anticipated signing. And, neighbor Mike Brownstein burst in with a bottle of chilled champagne.

In a house that has known such deep sadness over the past two years, there was nothing but joy the night before Christmas Eve.

“Brian was such a happy person and so full of life, he would love this night in our home,” said Kristen pouring champagne into his favorite glasses.

Then, with everyone watching, she sat at the dining room table, covered with lit candles, and, with a glorious shining smile, picked up a pen and signed the papers that deeded the house to her.

“It feels like Christmas,” she said, wiping away tears, along with everyone else in the room.

Applause and cheers broke out. Toasts were made and everyone hugged everyone. Even dog Gracie frantically wagged her tail.

A few nights before, Kristen heard daughter Samantha sing in the choir at her high school, and hoped “to suck in that Christmas feeling,” while silently mouthing the words to Hark the Herald Angels Sing: “Peace on Earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled.”

“Peace on Earth and mercy mild,” whispered Kristen the next night after the signing at the dining room table. “I have hope again.” 

She and the kids lost Brian in mid-November, 2011, after he was shot to death in the couple’s bedroom. When Kristen learned months later that they would also lose their home, which she and Brian had spent years renovating, a well-meaning friend came over and took pictures to make an album for Kristen when she moved out.

“You’ll always have this,” the friend told her. Kristen thanked her, but didn’t say what she was thinking: “It’s not the same. Remembering our family home is not living in it.”

But after the signing last week, Kristen was definitely living in it.

She walked from room to room, pointing out things. The entrance – “Brian and I moved it to here.”  The family room floor – “crooked.” The slightly askew door frame. “All Brian,” said Kristen.

“I am going to be in this house with our grandchildren showing them these things, and I will tell them that every little quirky thing that makes this home ours is where their grandfather is.”

Then she stopped and asked, “Do you know how much that means to me?”

It was Brian who taught her that life is not about perfection, she recalled. It’s about commitment.

“I have learned that with commitment, a kind of perfection comes,” she said.

And, last week, it was the commitment of hundreds of caring people that brought a perfect moment of hope to the wife and children of Brian Simpson.

For Christmas Eve, she and the kids went to Delray to visit family. Returning early Christmas morning they were greeted by a sign a friend had hung on the front door.

“Welcome home,” it said.

“I can’t tell you how good seeing that felt,” said Kristen.

She is almost through unpacking boxes and trimming oak trees in the yard, and she is renting a pressure cleaner this week to spiff up the walkways and pool area.

On Friday, Kristen Simpson sent this email to Vero Beach 32963:

“Thank you, and please thank everyone for me. I want them to know that their actions have changed my life! Their efforts have given me such hope, and opened my eyes even wider to our amazing community.

“Happy New Year from the bottom of my heart. 2014 is going to be the year of healing.”

Anyone who drives by the Simpson home at 620 Fiddlewood off A1A will tell you that it  has definitely become what a contributor predicted it would be – a place that warms the heart.