SuperTalk Mississippi

The story behind the original Secret Santa

JACKSON, Miss.- You’ve heard the story about a “Secret Santa” handing out $100 bills, but did you know, his vow of kindness got started in Houston, Mississippi? 

One day, a man wandered into the Dixie Diner in Houston. It was owned by Tennessee native Ted Horn who was there that day. He and his wife had moved to Mississippi to work at his uncle’s grocery store until he opened the small town eatery in the early 60’s.

“This man who appeared to be homeless came into the cafe and ordered a breakfast, the biggest breakfast in fact,” said David Horn, Ted’s son.”As I recall he got two overlights with ham, grits, toast, orange juice, coffee, so pretty nice breakfast.”

The man was actually Larry Stewart, from Bruce, Mississippi, a salesman who had recently moved to the area and was a bit down on his luck.

Horn said that Stewart knew he wasn’t going to be able to afford to pay the tab, and planned to dip out of the diner before the bill arrived. However, Horn’s father Ted had a different idea.

“That’s when my dad gave him the twenty dollars, under the pretense that he had dropped it,” said Horn.

Stewart was so moved by this small act of kindness that he made a promise.

“He vowed right then, thanking the good Lord for this blessing, that if he ever could he would help as many people as possible,” said Horn.

Stewart definitely made good on that promise years later when he became a multi-millionaire. He made his fortune in cable television and long distance calling but his real legacy was becoming the “Kansas City Secret Santa.”

Since 1979 Stewart handed out small amounts of cash, usually in the form of a $100 bill, to needy people. It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2006 that the world became aware of his identity.

Sadly, Stewart passed away as a result of his illness on January 12, 2007. But for Kansas, Mississippi, and those across the world that have heard his story, they will never forget his generous heart, all sparked by a simple act of kindness in a small town diner, so many years ago.

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