Secret Santa: It’s Your Turn to Pay It Forward

When Larry Stewart died at the age of 58, he was known world-wide as Secret Santa, and someone who gave away $1.3 million anonymously in and around the Kansas City area setting an example of generosity that’s hard to match. In the last 12 years, many people have taken up his cause. (

In the winter of 1971, Stewart worked as a door-to-door salesman when he ran out of money. He hadn’t eaten for days when he entered Dixie Diner in Tupelo, Miss. After eating his breakfast, he pretended he’d just lost his wallet. Ted Horn, the owner, reached down to the floor and picked up a $20 bill, saying: “son, you must have just dropped this.”

Steward later shared that this was like a fortune to him. Yes, the restaurant owner had helped him out secretly. But Stewart made a promise to himself that day: “Lord, if you ever put me in a position to help other people, I will.” And the Lord did – in a big way, financially and in business. Steward’s first act was just before Christmas 1979 when he ordered a burger and drink at a local drive-in. He gave the carhop $20 and told her to keep the change. The lady started to cry and just shared the words: “You have no idea what this means to me”.

To Stewart, it became addictive and felt so good he returned to the bank the next day to get more cash, and started to give it way, as well. As he shared many years later: “I see looks of hopelessness turn to looks of hope in an instant. Isn’t that what we were put here on earth for – to help one another?” For Stewart, there wasn’t a strategy, a plan or strict criteria, and all he wanted was to assure he guarded his identity. It was only after his cancer diagnosis that he went public in the hope that his story would inspire others to carry on his tradition.

I hope we do that. In small ways or large, not for the tax receipt, but because it feels great. I have no idea what Color Larry Stewart was, and his story and inspiration work equally well for us all. I do know that following his example will make your day, week or month. But I’ll tell you a learned secret: It’s better when nobody knows who you are – not even the person you’re helping.

Giving Is Receiving. In life – are you a giver or a taker? Larry Stewart was a giver and he died too soon. But as the restaurant owner, Ted Horn, shared with USA Today: “The Lord needed another angel, so he called Larry home.”

I wish you, your team at work and your family a very merry Christmas.

God bless,