COLUMBIA — On one of Dane and Jackie Gregg's first dates, they decided to go to Red Lobster. It turned into a wedding anniversary tradition, and they looked forward to visiting the restaurant on July 9 each year.
In the early years of marriage, they made a night of it, heading to the movies afterward. Later, they hired a sitter to watch their children so they could still go out.
Dane Gregg worked for more than 30 years as a sportscaster for 1370 AM KWRT in Boonville. His wife, Jackie, said he was a "people person" and loved connecting with his listeners, according to previous Missourian reporting. The Davis Funeral Chapel in Boonville told his wife that the chapel space would not be big enough — his funeral was expected to be the biggest in Boonville history.
In March, Dane died, less than four months before their 31st anniversary.
Jackie's children wanted the tradition to continue. On Wednesday, Jackie's daughter took her to the Red Lobster at 1716 I-70 Drive in Columbia, where Jackie ordered the lobster-topped lobster, a special their server recommended.
When her daughter asked for the bill, a handwritten note came back instead. It read:
"We are sorry to hear about your husband's passing, but we appreciate your loyalty in spending 31 years of your anniversary with us. For our appreciation, your meal is on us! We look forward to spending your next anniversary with us!
Red Lobster + your server, Taylor"
"It was basically one of the most genuine, kind things a person can do," Jackie said.
"We do nice things because it's just the right thing to do," said Chad Ward, the shift manager on Wednesday. "It's the Red Lobster core values."
Jackie said both she and her daughter began to cry when they read the note. They called over their server, Taylor, to thank her.
"It broke her heart," Jackie said. "We sat there and talked for a moment."
The year before, Jackie and Dane had taken their two adult children, a son-in-law and one grandchild along for their anniversary dinner. At that point, they already knew Dane had cancer.
"Everybody was concentrated on him," Jackie said. "It wasn't quite as rowdy as it normally would be, but we always laughed and had fun." They got to sit in a large booth in the back of the restaurant and had a good time.
Her visit to the restaurant Wednesday started out bittersweet despite the happy memories.
"It was hard, and the void was there," Jackie said. "Not all of us could be together, and with Dane missing, I got a little weepy."
However, she found comfort in the restaurant's kind gesture.
"It made their day," Ward said. "You take something that could've been even the slightest bit depressing, and you turn it around and you make it positive."
Jackie's son, after hearing about the gift Red Lobster gave to his mother, posted a picture of the note on Reddit.
The post quickly went viral.
"It really went big fast," Jackie said. "I was just in awe."
Although some people posted negative comments accusing the family of faking the story, Jackie didn't let it bother her.
"You have to forgive those people and let it go," Jackie said. She felt that ultimately the story was one that showed the good of the world and honored her husband.
"His life was cut short," Jackie said, "and yet now, with this, his life still goes on. He would've just thought this was so cool."
Red Lobster was grateful to provide this small act of kindness, Ward said.
"When you go through something like this, even though we were married 30 years, death comes so fast," Jackie said. "I hope everybody can learn to just stop, take time and enjoy life.
"Love your kids, love your grandkids, and take them to Red Lobster," Jackie added with a laugh.
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.