Ethics Hero Emeritus: Larry Stewart
A classic Ethics Hero died on January 12, 2007. His name was Larry Stewart, but the poor and homeless of Kansas City, Missouri knew him as “Secret Santa.” He only lived 58 years, and he made them count.
Every December from 1979 to 2006, Stewart roamed the streets of Kansas City handing out twenty dollar and hundred dollar bills. According to his obituary by the Associated Press, Stewart got the idea after he had been fired from his job a week before Christmas. Mulling his options at a drive-in restaurant, he noticed that the carhop serving him was shivering in the cold. “I think I got it bad,” he related. “She’s out there in the cold making nickels and dimes.” He gave her a $20 bill, and just continued giving them out year after year.
Stewart became a millionaire through his cable TV ventures, so he had a lot to give. (He also gave more conventional gifts to local causes.) He said that he gave cash gifts to the poor because it was money that they didn’t have to “beg for, stand in line for, or apply for.” By his final December, when Stewart knew he was dying, he expanded his charity to Chicago and hired four “assistant Secret Santas” to help him give more gifts. Only last November, after 25 years of anonymity, did Stewart reveal to Kansas City and the world that he was the mysterious person who had been giving away money on the streets each December. He hoped that by telling his story at last, he might inspire others emulate him by performing random acts of kindness.
Larry Stewart was a remarkably ethical man who found a selfless way to make the world a little better in his own whimsical style. There are an infinite number of ways to be an Ethics Hero, and Stewart made one of them his trademark.
We should all aspire to do the same.