Commentary

Saunders: Honesty is the best pizza

bsaunders@newsobserver.comApril 13, 2014 

Kids today.

You just can’t count on them to do what’s expected.

Want an example? When Hugh Johnson of Raleigh got to the downtown bank several days ago and realized he’d lost the $100 bill and a check he was aiming to deposit, he fatalistically “figured it was gone forever” and went on about his business, even wishing good fortune to whoever had found it.

Me? I’d have been on a corner with one of those Sherlock Holmes spyglasses, giving every passing stranger the fish-eye, trying to detect which one had an unearned $100 smile.

That, of course, would’ve only gotten me a sock on the jaw, not my money back.

Johnson, 27 and a graduate of Wake Forest and Georgetown universities, has been married less than two years. As his mother, Page Johnson of Charlotte, told me, “Losing that money must’ve rocked his world.”

You couldn’t tell it, though. Hugh Johnson, a state government worker, said, “I was off for lunch at work that day and had gone to the bank to deposit the cash and the check. The cash was a gift from my grandmother-in-law. We had just moved into a house and it was a housewarming gift. The check was one my wife had given me to deposit.

“When I got to the bank, I realized I’d lost it,” he said. “I went back and retraced my steps but couldn’t find it, so I called and canceled the check. I thought that, honestly, someone had just picked it up and I thought ‘Hey, I hope they used it for something good. Hopefully, it helped their lives a little bit.’ 

This is the part where you can’t count on kids to do what’s expected.

“About a week later,” Johnson said, “We came home – we’d been out on a dinner date – and my wife opened the mail and saw the check and I was just shocked. She was, too.”

Jennifer Hawkins, principal at Glen Alpine Elementary School in Burke County, said Davion Lowdermilk, one of her fourth-graders, found the moolah in an envelope on the sidewalk and handed it over to his guidance counselor, C.J. Shuffler. The class was on a 12-hour field-trip – remember those? – to the state capital to learn how government works and to visit some museums.

Hawkins said Davion was recognized over the school loudspeaker the next day during the morning news “for his good character and integrity.”

Hugh Johnson is planning to recognize him with a pizza party for his entire class.

What, I asked Johnson, made him choose to pay for a pizza party that may actually cost more than the $100 bill he got back?

“We thought it would be good if this kid were rewarded for doing the right thing,” he said. “He deserved it, not to mention that it would be a good example for the rest of his classmates. ... My wife is a schoolteacher, and it’s just the way we were both raised and the way we’d like to raise our daughter.”

Oh yeah, that’s right: Rayan and Hugh Johnson are expecting a baby daughter in July, so you know that C-note was probably already spent before it was deposited. When I spoke with Johnson on Saturday, he was painting the baby’s bedroom.

Johnson also said Rayan and he hope their response will “pay it forward” by inspiring others to do something good for someone. Don’t laugh: It could happen.

Just a couple of months ago, an 8-year-old boy in Ohio found a $20 bill lying on the ground as his family and he walked into a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Instead of buying candy and video games, as he’d initially and excitedly planned, Myles Eckert wrote a note to the uniformed soldier he saw dining at a table near them and gave him the money to pay for his meal.

Myles, who was only 1 month old when his soldier father was killed in Iraq, sparked a movement that so far has reportedly raised more than $1 million for Snowball Express, a nonprofit organization that helps children who’ve lost a parent in military action.

Johnson was initially reluctant to talk about the incident involving the lost money, and seemingly agreed to do so only after I told him what Myles Eckert’s good deed had spawned. His mother, Page, said “It’s just good all around – that child learning from his parents, and hopefully it shows how we raised our children. All I can say,” she said, “is ‘YEA!!!’ 

Yep. YEA! And it looks as though Aesop was right: Honesty is the best pizza.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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