Thomas Cannon’s life may have seemed unremarkable. He had a wife, two sons, and a job as a postal clerk. He didn’t own a fancy house or drive a swanky car. But he had one interesting habit: He liked to give away money.
People often wondered how he could afford to be so generous. Cannon’s explanation was simple: He lived well below his means and did without the luxuries of life so he could help others.
He developed this philosophy during World War II while enlisted in the Navy. Cannon was away for training when a tragic accident claimed the lives of his shipmates. He believed that his life had been spared for a reason. After being discharged, he completed his education (from 8th grade through an undergraduate degree), took a job at the U.S. Post Office, then earnestly pursued the mission he thought he’d been “assigned”: to be a positive role model and serve others.
Most of the folks he donated money to were people in his town whom he read about in the local newspaper. He awarded them $1,000 for their commitment to charitable endeavors or for whatever hardships they were struggling against. Over the years, he distributed more than $150,000 to needy and deserving individuals—all while raising a family on an annual salary that never exceeded $20,000.
Before he passed away, Cannon made it known that he didn’t want a foundation to carry on his work, a statue to honor what he did, or his name attached to anything. But he did want his legacy to survive. And the best way to do that, Thomas Cannon suggested, was easy: “Help somebody.”