Monday, November 20, 2006

Yes -- The Spirit of Santa is Alive & Well

Let's all keep Secret Santa, Larry Stewart in our thoughts in prayers. His random acts of kindness inspire us and teach us that even the smallest gift can mean the world to someone.


Ailing secret Santa seeks a successor
Dan Glaister
November 21, 2006

FOR years the portly man in a red tunic and sporting a large white beard has been delighting unsuspecting strangers with his munificence. But now the Kansas City Santa has been forced to hang up his sleigh bells and stay at home - but not before revealing his true identity.

Over the past 26 years Larry Stewart, 58, a businessman, has given $US1.3 million ($1.7 million) to strangers he met in the street.

He started by handing out $5 and $10 bills to people who seemed down on their luck. With inflation and a rise in his own wealth - he has made millions running a cable television and long-distance telephone service - the gifts rose to $US100 bills. But Mr Stewart always insisted on anonymity, earning himself the nickname Secret Santa.

This year he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus, which has since spread to his liver, so he has decided to reveal his identity in the hope that he may inspire someone else to take over his Santa duties.

Mr Stewart's generosity was born out of his own experience of poverty.

In the early 1970s, jobless, he resorted to living in his car, a yellow Datsun 510. One day he finally mustered the courage to approach a church to ask for help. He was told that the person who could help had left and he should return the following day. "As I turned around, I knew I would never do that again," Mr Stewart told Associated Press. By the late 1970s Mr Stewart had a job and some money, but he was still plagued by misfortune. In 1979, for the second year in succession, he was sacked in the week before Christmas. But when he saw a shivering, roller-skating waitress at a drive-in restaurant, he realised that there were others worse off than he was.

"It was cold and this carhop didn't have on a very big jacket, and I thought to myself, 'I think I got it bad. She's out there in this cold making nickels and dimes,"' he said. He gave her a $US20 bill. "And suddenly I saw her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks. She said, 'Sir, you have no idea what this means to me."'

Mr Stewart went to the bank, withdrew $US200 and drove around Kansas looking for people to give it to. The Secret Santa mission was born.

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