Florida lawyer receives a long lost charitable donation envelope written 81 years ago by his late grandfather.

By Linda Marx
Updated December 22, 2015 09:10 AM
Courtesy Gary Lesser

West Palm Beach, Florida, lawyer and philanthropist Gary Lesser, 48, received the Chanukah gift of his lifetime.

After learning there was a donation envelope sent by his late grandfather Joseph Lesser in 1934 to honor his great grandfather Phillip Lesser, the young Lesser was blown away when a friend handed it to him for Chanukah this year.

“I was beyond elated,” Lesser, Managing Partner of Lesser, Lesser, Landy and Smith, a personal injury law firm in West Palm Beach, Stuart and Boca Raton, Florida, tells PEOPLE.

“I recently learned about this donation envelope after spending my entire life devoted to admiring and emulating the generosity and compassion of my grandfather. I was amazed and thrilled!” he says.

In 1934, Lesser’s great grandfather Phillip, the owner of a dry goods store in Rome, Georgia, was stuck and tragically killed by a car as he walked home after worshiping at his Congregation Rodeph Sholom synagogue.

Following the funeral, Lesser’s grandfather Joseph wrote a check in honor of Phillip to support the Jewish refugees moving to Palestine before it became Israel in 1948.

“The donation went off in the mail and nothing about it was seen again,” Lesser tells PEOPLE.

In September, Lesser, who supports more than a dozen Jewish and non-Jewish charitable organizations in Florida and nationally, became aware that an envelope carrying the 1934 donation had been found and was to be auctioned on eBay.

So the excited and hopeful lawyer told some close friends about the existence of this envelope, and he got ready to place his bid. But in the end, he lost to another bidder.

“I was upset and spent time seeking out the seller, so I could find the envelope buyer and hopefully buy it back from him,” Lesser says.

“But when I finally found the seller he said he was sorry, but the auction was over and I had lost,” he adds.

Still disappointed, Lesser admitted he had to accept the reality that this family treasure was forever gone. He would have to exist with the memories, stories and legacy of his warm and giving grandfather who died in 1982.

What he remembers the most – and takes to heart – were his grandfather’s pithy words: “Every person is born a debtor and they have an obligation to their family, to their synagogue, or church, to their community and to their country.”

So as Lesser continues to build his law practice, he serves his community by helping organizations like the Jewish Federation, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, Florida Atlantic University and more.

Then in late November, Lesser got a big surprise. He was having dinner with his boyhood friend Britt Deviney, now a financial adviser in south Florida. The men had been Boy Scouts and Little Leaguers together in West Palm Beach.

“I was enjoying dinner with Britt and his wife, and we had talked for two hours, even had coffee, before he handed me the donation envelope written by my grandfather that he had bought for me on eBay,” Lesser tells PEOPLE.

“He said, ‘Happy Chanukah,’ knowing how much my family means to me and that this gift would be amazing. I couldn’t believe he did this for me.”

Deviney tells PEOPLE: “There was no way in hell I would let anybody else but Gary get his grandfather’s envelope.”