Repeated every year by CBS News’ reporter Steve Hartman, this is one story of character and compassion I never get tired of.
One very wealthy and very grateful gentleman travels the country and hands out $100 to individuals in need.
CBS News cameras capture the reaction on the recipients year after year. However, Hartman explains how it all began.
“The legend of Secret Santa can actually be traced back to a single act of kindness in Houston, Mississippi,” Hartman says. “It was 1971. A homeless man had wandered into town, and he was starving.
“The stranger stopped at the Dixie Diner and ordered the biggest breakfast on the menu. His plan was to sneak out before the bill came.
“But the owner, a guy named Ted Horn, sensed what was about to happen. So he snuck up behind the guy with a $20 bill in his hand and said, “I think you may have dropped this.”
“ ‘And that was the end of it as far as he was concerned,’ said David Horn, Ted’s son.
David and his sister Sandra say their dad died in 2009, but that one gift keeps on giving.
“ ‘That one little $20, just look what it did,’ Sandra said.
“ ‘It’s difficult to imagine that,’ David said. The homeless stranger was a man named Larry Stewart, who vowed that day if he ever got rich, he would return the favor in spades. Larry eventually made millions in cable and long distance and became the first Secret Santa, his identity revealed only after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2006.
“Which brings us to Larry’s good friend, the current Secret Santa,” Hartman explains.
“ ‘Larry was hospitalized and I went up to visit him at night … moonlight shining in, kind of surreal … so I asked Larry, “Do you have any regrets?” And he said, “Yes.” I said, ‘What is it?’ And he said, “I just wish I could have helped more people.” Secret Santa said.”
“After giving away more than a million dollars to total strangers, Larry still felt more needed to be done.
“ ‘So that’s when I assumed the responsibility,’ Secret Santa said.
“Over the last decade, this new Secret Santa has run the total to more than $2 million, and all from $20. Talk about happy returns.”
Friday: Secret Santa kicks it up a notch!