"Humanity" at its finest: Man dies years after young girl's friendship saved him

Man dies years after young girl's friendship saved him

Augusta, Georgia — Dan Peterson was late for his own memorial service – four years late.  According to his brother, Jesse, Dan was ready to die back in 2016.

"And some little girl, who was 4 years old, said, 'Hi, old person,'" Jesse said. 

That little giver-of-life was Norah Wood. Norah met Dan during his darkest days. As CBS News first reported in November of 2016, Dan's wife had just died — he was severely depressed — and he was out grocery shopping for himself here in Augusta, Georgia, when Norah spotted him.

As you can see on the security footage, she just randomly reached out to this total stranger. And then had the audacity to demand a hug.

"I said, 'A hug?!'  I said, 'Absolutely!'" Dan said. 

Dan Peterson got an unlikely hug while grocery shopping in 2016. Handout

Norah got her hug and then asked her mom, Tara, to take a picture of her with her new friend.

"And his little lip quivered and he was teared up and it was just sweet," Tara said. 

"And I said, 'You don't know. This is the first time for quite a while that I've been this happy,'" Dan said. 

After we first told this story, we thought for sure the love would fade, but Norah and Dan saw each other at least once a week. He was there for her kindergarten graduation and she was there to stroll his garden. And of course there were countless hugs along the way.

Dan Peterson Courtesy of Tara Wood

"It was the first thing she did when we walked in," Tara said. "It was the last thing she did when we left." 

Norah visited with her sister Marigold the day before Dan died. 

No story I've ever told has resonated as deeply as this one. Over the years, Dan got thousands of letters from around the world and now the condolences are pouring in for Norah. And you can't help but wonder why with so much else going on in the world.

"I think it was just humanity at it's best: To love and to be loved," Tara said. 

A prescription for happiness that will get you through anything.

Dan Peterson and Norah Wood Courtesy of Tara Wood

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  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.