HONESTY pays – and in the case of homeless American Billy Ray Harris it paid $191 790 (R1,7 million). Because he wasn’t greedy his orange begging cup literally became his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
After a hard day’s begging in Kansas City, Missouri, Billy Ray decided to count his takings. “I dumped the change out into my hand, and there was the ring,? he says.
It wasn’t just any ring; it was a platinum and diamond engagement ring.
He took the ring to a jeweller who wanted to buy it for $4 000 (R36 000) but he decided to keep it in case the owner came looking for it. And she did.
Two days previously Sarah Darling had shaken out her change into Billy Ray’s begging cup, having forgotten the ring was in the purse. Since then she’d been terribly worried she wouldn’t find it.
“I asked him, ?I don't know if you remember me but I think I gave you something that's very precious to me,’ ? Sarah explains.
There and then Billy Ray took the ring from his pocket and put it on Sarah’s finger in front of her surprised fiancé, Bill Krejci.
His reward? Initially only $60 (R540) because that’s all Sarah and Bill had on them. But their gratitude didn’t end there. The couple started an online fund to collect more money for Billy Ray as a reward for his honesty.
More than 8 354 people all over the world donated R1,7 million to the fund.
Billy Ray says he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the ring. He immediately thought it was a fake but a jeweller confirmed it was the real thing. “I about had a fit when the guy told me it was really worth some money.?
He says he declined the jeweller’s offer because his grandfather had raised him well.
“In my heart I just couldn’t [sell the ring]. I’m not trying to say I’m a saint, but I’m no devil either.
Sarah is very happy about that. She’d put the ring in her purse temporarily because it’d irritated her skin and caused a rash. When she shook her change into Billy Ray’s cup the ring went with the money.
When Sarah realised her kindness had got her into trouble she was shattered. “It was horrible. It was such a feeling of loss,? Sarah says. “It meant so much to me, beyond just the financial value. ?
After Billy Ray (55) returned the ring she and Bill had wanted to collect R36 000 as a reward – the amount the jeweller had offered him. But the fund ended up coming to nearly 50 times more.
Billy Ray will now open his own bank account to receive the money. Meanwhile he sleeps on an air mattress in a friend’s cellar.
“It’s living like a king compared to where I was,” Billy Ray says.
But it’s not just Billy Ray’s unselfish act and his reward that make this story a fairytale.
When the American media told his story relatives who’d thought for 16 years Billy Ray was dead saw him on TV. They immediately contacted TV network NBC and have been reunited with him.
Now Billy Ray is ready to start a new life – with a smile worth millions.
-Compiled by Christiaan Boonzaier