Back in 2014 Jason Ward was a 44-year-old tattoo artist living in Hamilton, New Zealand. He was working at the city’s Muscle and Ink Tattoo parlor at the time. And it was there that, one day, he encountered a client pretty different to the ones he had inked before. What’s more, she had a request that, at first, made him scratch his head.
In particular, it was Suzie Barrie who puzzled Ward when she walked into the parlor for the very first time. And the woman was on a mission, it seemed, judging by the way she insisted that her unusual demand be carried out.
Furthermore, Barrie wasn’t your stereotypical tattoo parlor client. She was more likely to be found, in fact, at a day center for adults with learning difficulties. She has Down syndrome – a genetic condition that often presents itself through distinctive facial characteristics and, in some, a level of intellectual impairment.
On that day in 2014, however, Barrie had evidently decided that that parlor was the place for her to be. And it definitely would have been the case if she had wanted just a regular piece of ink. There was a twist to her request, however, that Ward probably wasn’t expecting.
That was because the tattoos she had brought with her and given to him were temporary adhesive designs. And these were ones that could easily be applied using a damp cloth and some pressure. Understandably, Ward was baffled. Barrie remained undeterred, though, and asked him again if he could add them to her arm.
Then, eventually, Ward gracefully obliged. He put on some gloves, as he would before beginning a regular tattoo. Then he asked Barrie to sit. And once she was in position, he got to work applying the stick-on tattoos for her with no questions asked.
Once the ‘tattooing’ process was finished, though, Barrie left without saying a thing. And, at first, Ward thought that it was just a random and rather odd encounter. As he remarked in a 2014 interview with The New Zealand Herald, “Who walks into a tattoo shop to get stick-on tattoos?”
Evidently, there was at least one woman out there who did. And even if she didn’t thank Ward for the trouble he went to, she may still have been pleased with his work. Certainly, what she did next suggests so.
Indeed, as Ward explained to The New Zealand Herald, after that first encounter “she came back the following Friday.” And what she wanted was exactly the same thing. Of course, Ward put his gloves on once more and got to work.
Furthermore, this routine went on for months. And each time Ward behaved as if Barrie were just another patron. In fact, as the Daily Mail reported in 2014, he ensured that she got the “full tattoo experience” every time she came into the Hamilton parlor.
And while Ward has revealed to The New Zealand Herald that the whole situation “started off as something quite funny,” he was always willing to oblige Barrie. He even admitted to strong feelings on the matter when speaking to the newspaper “If she was a member of my family and she had walked into another tattoo shop and they had told her to bugger off, I’d be angry. Why would you say no?,” he explained.
As for the type of designs that Barrie prefers? It’s been noticed that she often gets Maori-type tribal-style tattoos. And what she does after she gets the pieces done is rather adorable. As Ward told The New Zealand Herald, “One of her caregivers… told me [that] someone at a day base thing that she goes to has tā moko [traditional Maori tattoos] all up their arm. Apparently, she goes back there on a Friday and afternoon and compares them.”
They’re not the only person she shows her ink off to, however – her dad, too, gets his own unveiling when the tattoos are done. However, Barrie can’t name a single favorite piece out of the many that she’s had. Instead, as she explained to New Zealand website Stuff in 2014, she “like[s] them all.”
But the story behind Ward and Barrie’s weekly meet-ups was not destined to stay unnoticed forever. The attention started, moreover, when one of Ward’s friends took a photograph of Barrie having a ‘tattoo’ done at Muscle and Ink. They then uploaded it to Facebook. And considering what a good deed the tattooist was doing, it’s perhaps no surprise that it garnered plenty of interest on the social media site.
In fact, the heartwarming snap went viral and has since garnered over 178,000 likes to date. “It was crazy that a photo that a friend took could on a typical Friday could just take off like that,” a shocked Ward told The New Zealand Herald at the time.
What’s more, the reaction online was overwhelmingly positive, with many messages praising Ward for taking the time to humor Barrie. The photo has received nearly 6,000 Facebook comments in total; it’s also been shared an incredible 17,900 times.
And out of those thousands of messages, many were as glowing as that left by one commenter. It read, “Cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Total sweetheart and the folks in that shop should be commended. Absolutely brilliant.” Another Facebook user, meanwhile, was full of praise for Ward, writing, “There are some true gentlemen out there still.”
Unbelievably, some cynics have accused Ward of doing it for a publicity stunt. But the reality was that the tattooist actually wished to shy away from all the attention when his photo went viral. “I wanted to hide, I had no idea what was going on,” he told The New Zealand Herald.
And the Facebook post had yet another – likely unintended – effect. It even got people contacting Muscle and Ink to ask if they could give the parlor some temporary tattoos for Barrie. But while speaking to The New Zealand Herald, Ward gave his own take on the matter.
“It’s great that people want to do something for Suzie, but they could look a little closer to home,” he said. “If you just do one thing for one person every day that makes them smile, then that’s your day. If everybody does that, then everybody’s smiling.” Wise words, indeed, and ones that ought to encourage everyone to follow Ward’s kindly example.