||This is a video from the November 29, 1996 Nightline Show with Ted Koppel. This is a heart-warming story about a retired postal worker philanthropist Thomas Cannon and his commitment to give his money away to strangers. As you watch the video and read the narrative below you will see that Gary Fenchuk, a ’64 Bedford High School graduate was instrumental in assisting Thomas Cannon with his philanthropy.
Here is a story that appeared in “People Magazine” September 28, 1998:
They were hardly standard mailing addresses. "The Man Who Gives Away Money," read one envelope. Another was sent to "God's Helper." And yet, over the years, each letter found its way to the Richmond, Va., home of Thomas Cannon.
Cannon, 73, doesn't honor pleas for cash. Rather, he finds unsuspecting strangers and surprises them with checks of up to $1,000. Since 1972 the retired postal worker, whose salary never climbed above $32,000 a year, has doled out about $102,000.
His generosity arises in part from his humble origins. After his father, a Richmond transit worker, died when Cannon was 3, his mother moved the family to his grandmother's wooden shack in rural Virginia. Following time in the Navy, he returned to Richmond, where he married Princetta Cooper, now 71. Unhappy sorting mail at the post office, he fed his spiritual hunger by reading Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King Jr. and came to feel that he had a mission to improve the world. "I might have been chosen because I was the sort of person who could withstand ridicule," he says. The recipients of Cannon's goodwill include a wheelchair marathoner who lost his legs in Vietnam, eight Chesapeake, Va., kids who pulled a horse out of a marsh and a group building a Hindu temple. He once gave a blind street beggar $1,000 accompanied by a brief note: "Please buy your dog a steak."
Remarkably, he was giving so generously while living in a slum area. To make matters worse, Princetta, who is blind, suffered two strokes that have left her bedridden since 1990. Cannon's good deeds were rewarded, though, in 1995, when real estate developer Gary Fenchuk, (a ’64 Bedford High School graduate) raised $45,000 from donors to buy Cannon a new home, then began providing a monthly stipend to augment his pension. Of course, Cannon has often put the money to other purposes. Once, after accepting a Christmas check for $2,300, he handed out that amount in $50 bills to strangers on a bus. "When it comes time to depart," he says, "I'll have the satisfaction of having tried to make a more peaceful world."
The BHS Alumni Association would like to congratulate Thomas Cannon and Bedford graduate Gary Fenchuk for setting an example of giving that we all should follow.