Saturday, December 10, 2011

Larry Stewart (1948 - 2007)

Larry Stewart seemed to have had bad luck financially most of his life.  He was born very poor, raised by grandparents on welfare in a home with no indoor plumbing.  As a young adult, he had bad luck with jobs, being fired one time after another.  Homeless, he walked into a diner one day after not having eaten in two days.  He ordered breakfast, then pretended he had lost his wallet.  At that point, the diner owner, Ted Horn, did something so extraordinary, he changed Larry's life.

Ted put a $20 bill in Larry's hand and said, "You must have dropped this."

Larry promised to pay it forward if he ever were able.  After several more financial failures and job losses, he actually hit it big starting a cable and long distance telephone business.  He became a millionnaire and donated an estimated $1.3 million to various charities.

But the philanthropy he was best known for was as the "Secret Santa" of Kansas City.  He would walk into places like thrift shops and coin laundries and hand out money.  Usually $100 bills.  And he liked to do it especially at Christmas time.  He kept his identity anonymous until he was going to be outed by a tabloid.  By that time, he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Before he died, he trained four others to take over as Secret Santas.  He also looked up the diner guy who inspired him and gave out money together.  Secret Santa philanthropy was born, grandfathered by a diner proprietor named Ted Horn.

Dick Kazan with Larry Stewart


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