The Poor Man’s Philanthropist - A story about giving

There's no shortage of stories about people who went from rags to riches, but this doesn’t follow that familiar plot. Instead, this story is about a man who didn't mind rags and gave away the riches.

© Cade Martin
© Cade Martin

Thomas Cannon was a retired postal worker of modest means, in Richmond, Virginia, who awarded gifts of $1,000 to individuals, to people he had read about in the local newspaper, that he felt were setting a positive example for others.

Over 33 years, starting in 1972, Cannon gave away more than $150,000, most often in thousand-dollar cheques. During those years, he never made more than $20,000 a year. Yet he gave, and gave often.

Cannon gave to people in financial need, but he also gave to people who had performed acts of kindness, courage, or generosity themselves. Wealthy people at times found themselves the recipients of cheques from Cannon. They humbly accepted the cheques, in the spirit in which the checks had been given.

I was able to meet and make photographs of Mr. Cannon, a hometown hero of mine, in 1997 for Parade Magazine. Thomas Cannon died on July 2, 2005 but his spirit lives on.

Cade Martin is represented by Heather Elder.


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