Man who returned $185,000 check gets royal treatment
Until a few days ago, Reggie Damone walked to the bus and rode to his job at McDonald’s without anyone noticing him.
Now people pull over and ask if he wants a ride. Customers reach across the restaurant counter and shake his hand. TV news crews call him asking for interviews.
Newspapers in Poland, Australia and elsewhere are publishing his story. People want to send him money.
All because he did the right thing.
Damone said he wasn’t born knowing what was right. He learned honesty the old-fashioned way, from his mother, who used to slap his hand when he’d steal a dime from his brother’s pocket. And from the school principal, who once paddled him for trying to take what didn’t belong to him.
Saturday night, Damone picked up an envelope on the sidewalk in front of the Dunkin’ Donuts in downtown Norwich, thinking he was grabbing scrap paper to write down a phone number for a friend.
He tore a corner off the envelope and found inside a check for $185,000.
Damone, 47, works at McDonald’s in Lisbon, has no car and receives food stamps to get by. For an instant, he imagined having that much money.
Then he started making phone calls to find the check’s rightful owner.
He rode the bus back to Norwich Monday and gave it back to the Lord family, property owners in downtown Norwich. He was met by a family member at a downtown bank, who thanked him and handed him an envelope with a $50 bill.
Simon Feldman, professor of philosophy at Connecticut College who specializes in ethics, said Damone would have had to commit fraud to take advantage of the check he found.
Damone’s story was picked up by national news organizations and accessed internationally through the Internet. Video of the story on CNN.com had pulled in 65,000 views as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, according to CNN spokesman Karen Varga-Sinka, making it among the most viewed of the day.
As of late Wednesday night, the story had drawn more than 3,700 comments on AOL.com. They ranged from the fact that he should receive no reward at all to larger awards, including a month’s rent or $5,000 or more.
Milton Delgado, who works in Newark, Del., said he wanted to give something back to Damone.
“There were people saying, ‘Hey if we all sent him a dollar, we could get him $185,000,’ ” Delgado said. “I’d chip in five, 10 bucks for that. I mean, goodness gracious, I spend five bucks on nothing.
“I don’t even know who he is. I don’t know what he looks like.” But Delgado said Damone inspired him to do something good.
Tammy Kight, who lives in Norwich and works in the Dunkin’ Donuts, said she would have turned the check in, too. But not everyone else would have, she said.
“It was honest,” she said. “Very honest.”
Feldman said he believes the story fascinated people because so many believe that people ultimately act to better their own selves.
“I think most people believe that we are all egoists,” he said. “That we are all motivated by self-interest in the end. So when you have tangible evidence that someone is not acting primarily out of self interest, it seems selfless and amazing.”
Damone grew up in a small town in South Carolina, the second of six children. He was raised most of his life by a single mother; his father died of a heart attack when he was young. Damone’s mother worked in a tobacco warehouse, commuting to another state to earn money to take care of her children.
When he was a boy of 8 or 9, Damone said he sneaked dimes from his brothers, and change from his mother’s purse. She’d slap his hand and tell him, “If you take something, you lose three times that amount.”
But he said he didn’t take it to heart right away. Then, at age 12 or 13, he saw a classmate with a Mickey Mouse watch he wanted.
He took it.
Damone said he couldn’t wear the watch at school, because the classmate would see it, so he wore it at home.
Three days later, he felt so guilty he said he tried to return it to classmate’s gym pants pocket. The coach caught him, hauled him to the principal’s office for attempted stealing, and the principal paddled him.
Shortly after that, in the same gym class, Damone said someone took away something precious to him.
His mother had bought him a pair of red Converse sneakers for his birthday, and he put them in his locker for safe keeping, changing into an old pair of sneakers so the new ones wouldn’t get dirty.
When he got back they were gone. And he remembered his mother’s words: If you take something, you’ll lose three times over. But if you do something good, it will come back to you.
“I think my sneakers probably cost about three times as much as that watch,” he said. “That just stuck with me ever since then.”
Damone said he knew he did the right thing with the check.
But still, he never expected this kind of attention.
“I get nervous in front of cameras,” he said. “I’ve always been simple.”
Reach Deborah Straszheim at 860-425-4221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.