A pedestrian, reflected in a shop window, walks by a paper hear in Portland on Feb. 14, 2023. A "Valentine's Day Bandit" hangs hearts all over the city on the holiday each year. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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The Valentine’s Day bandit has stolen our hearts once again.

For decades, that was the only kind of stealing this anonymous Portland figure did. It’s a rare kind of bandit who spends their time giving out warmth and love, and that was the calling card of Portland’s Valentine’s Day bandit. Mysteriously, namelessly, they used prominently placed red hearts to remind us all about the power of love and the strength of community.

We now know who has been “the driving force” behind all that joy, but it comes with sad news. The loved ones of Kevin Fahrman, 67, of Falmouth movingly announced his once-clandestine role in his recent obituary.

“As we remember Kevin, we cannot help but smile through our tears at his infectious humor, practical jokes, and the long-held secret that he was a visionary behind Portland’s Valentine’s Day Bandit,” his obituary reads. “Yes, you read that right. For decades, this mysterious figure warmed the hearts of the city by placing hundreds of red paper hearts on storefronts and notable landmarks, and huge banners in unexpected places. Kevin’s simple yet powerful gesture brought joy and love to the community, reminding us all to cherish our loved ones and treasure the place we call home.”

This was news even to some of Fahrman’s friends. Others who knew the secret had carefully guarded it for years.

“It was just a reflection of Kevin sharing his love,” close friend Rachel Guthrie told Maine Public. “He was all about that, making people feel like they were loved and special and unique. He didn’t use those words. He did it with his actions.”

As far as legacies go, that’s a pretty darn good one.

“He had the biggest heart,” Fahrman’s wife, Patti Urban, told the Portland Press Herald. “He loves everyone. He always worried about what other people wanted and needed.” She told the paper that he took over the yearly effort from someone else in 1979.

For years, that big heart dotted the Portland landscape with other big hearts on Valentine’s Day, offering a strong yet simple reminder to love each other, with the added intrigue of anonymity. Annie Wadleigh, the assistant director of development at Maine College of Art & Design, summed up the tradition quite well in 2020.

“It’s a beautiful anonymous love letter to Portland and one of those things that I hope doesn’t change because it preserves the heart and soul of what Portland’s been about,” Wadleigh told the Press Herald at the time.

That impact of that love letter remains even as Fahrman’s role has been unmasked, and even with his loss. The love he gave is a great gift to us all, and it will be forever etched on the streets of Portland and beyond as long as we continue to share his message. As the anonymous nature of the hearts emphasized each February, it was always about sharing love with each other, not about one person.

“As we move forward, we must honor his memory by emulating his generosity of spirit, his selflessness, and his unwavering support for others,” his obituary continued. “We strive to carry the light he brought into our lives, allowing his spirit to guide us in our quest to be better people.”

We all have a role to play in carrying this light, not just on Valentine’s Day and not just with heart signs and banners, but in how we treat each other on a daily basis. Kevin Fahrman has given us a message that transcends his medium. It now falls to the rest of us — beyond those who will hopefully continue filling Portland with literal hearts on Valentine’s Day — to keep this tradition going throughout the year, simply but importantly, by being kind to one another.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...