Husband of Viral Grandma Who Invited Stranger to Thanksgiving Dies After Coronavirus Diagnosis

Lonnie Dench died Sunday, however, his wife Wanda "is not sick," Jamal Hinton — who Wanda texted in 2016 — shared this week

Photo: Jamal Hinton

Lonnie Dench — the husband of Wanda Dench, the grandmother who went viral a few years ago for accidentally inviting a stranger to her Thanksgiving dinner — died Sunday, less than one week after he was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Jamal Hinton, who first became friends with Wanda and Lonnie in 2016 thanks to a text message, shared the news on Twitter Wednesday, writing that Lonnie “did not make it” and “passed away Sunday morning.”

Prior to his death, Hinton noted that Lonnie received lots of well wishes and support during the trying time.

“Wanda told me all the love and support he was receiving put a huge smile on his face so I thank every single one of you guys for that!” he wrote.

Wanda — who is “not sick,” Hinton added Wednesday — is remembering her husband as her “hero,” she told Arizona Family.

“He had the truest heart of love, like no other,” she said. “He did so many acts of kindness that no one ever heard about. He was my hero. And I’m a better person because of him.”

On April 1, Hinton first revealed that Lonnie and Wanda both tested positive for COVID-19.

“I am so sad to announce that Wanda and Lonnie both have COVID-19 and that Lonnie is currently in the hospital fighting both COVID and Pneumonia,” Hinton wrote at the time. “Please send words of love and encouragement their way.”

“[Wanda] is really scared,” Hinton said Friday in a video update on YouTube. “I know that Lonnie is really scared. But I told them both that they’re both strong and that they’re going to pull through with this. I just need your guys’ wishes and prayers to help them do it.”

Hinton and Wanda live in Arizona, where there are at least 2,726 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 80 deaths related to the virus as of April 9. Nationwide, there are at least 429,264 confirmed cases and 14,820 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic via AP
Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic via AP

The two first connected back in 2016, when she meant to text her grandson to invite him to dinner. But Wanda’s grandson had changed his number, and the message was sent to Hinton, then 17, instead.

Despite the mix-up, Hinton ended up accepting Wanda’s invitation and the two have been friends ever since — with a new holiday tradition to reunite for their Thanksgiving meal. Last November, they reunited for the fourth year in a row.

“It was so unexpected, but she was just so sweet about it,” Hinton previously told PEOPLE. “It was a reminder that there are still some good people left in this world.”

“I just clicked when I met him and first talked to him,” Dench previously told NBC Nightly News of Hinton. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to get to know this guy.’”

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