A story from The Richest Man in Town

After a week's vacation, I came home and played the messages on my answering machine. One was from Marty. "You'll never believe what they're doing with me," he said. "They're flying me to Dallas, Texas, this Friday. I guess I'm going to be getting some big award. I'll let you know about it when I get back." Click.

I was in Marty's line early that next Monday. When he looked up from his cash register and saw me, he walked around the counter and grabbed me by the elbow. "I don't want to sound like a braggart, but you have got to come over tonight. You won't believe it. I don't believe it. Can you come over?"

I had never seen Marty that excited. Shortly after I arrived at his home that evening, he ushered me into the kitchen. "Look at this," he said, showing me a certificate. "It's Wal-Mart's Hero Award. They give out six of these a year."

Over the next hour Marty told me all about the award and his trip to Dallas. He received the honor in front of thirteen thousand managers and supervisors of the largest company in the world. "They told me only one in a hundred thousand associates gets the award," he said. "Pretty good, huh?"

The speaker that day was General Colin Powell. Marty said, "I was maybe ten feet from him when he spoke. He's a powerful speaker. I don't have a clue what he was talking about, but he looked at me the whole time."

The certificate wasn't the only new source of pride in Marty's home. While he was in Texas, his children went through family albums and picked out photographs taken of Marty during important times of his life. They had the pictures matted and placed in a large frame that now was hanging in the dining room.

Marty took me over to the new wall hanging. I immediately got a lump in my throat. There, mixed in with all those pictures of Marty, was a copy of the letter I had sent to David Glass, president and CEO of Wal-Mart, all those months ago.

I looked at Marty. He knew I was focused on my letter. "You know," he said, "I've read your letter seventy-five times, and I've cried seventy-five times."

I couldn't sleep that night. Over and over I replayed that moment. Contentment had filled Marty's face. He seemed like he was the richest man in town.

"That's it!" I shouted. I jumped out of bed and grabbed my notebook. It had finally dawned on me that Marty was a modern-day George Bailey, the character Jimmy Stewart played in the Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life.

George Bailey never got to travel the world, never became a builder of great cities, and never made a lot of money. It wasn't until he saw the world without him, courtesy of Angel Second Class Clarence Oddbody, that he realized the impact of his life on others.

At the end of the movie, Harry Bailey, George's younger brother, raised a glass in the air and said, "Here's a toast to my big brother, George, the richest man in town."

In my mind, Marty was the richest man in our town. So many people were being touched by his kindness, if only for a moment. He reminded all of us to be better people.

I wanted the whole world to know about him-or at least as many people as my voice could reach. For the next few months I worked on a speech titled, "The Richest Man in Town." I knew how he was affecting my life, and I felt other people needed to hear his story.

Several weeks later, I tried out the talk in front of two hundred people. The impact was immediate and powerful. I could see it in the faces of those sitting in the audience. When I was done, there was a standing ovation. I knew they weren't standing for me-they were standing for Marty.

Dozens of people came up to me afterwards, visibly moved by what they had heard, and thanked me. For some of them, Marty brought up memories of an important person in their lives and they wanted to tell me about that person.

"Thank you for reminding me how to be a better person," one man said.

"No," I replied, "you need to thank Marty."

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