2018 Person of the Year: Mary Latham
A funny thing happened in places all across the world Dec. 14, as people everywhere from Missouri to New Zealand were treated to random acts of kindness by strangers taking part in the $100 movement.
Just ask customers of North Fork Roasting Co. in Southold, who learned their coffee had been paid for by an individual who donated $100 to be spent on others that day.
“When I would explain to people why their order was paid for, their faces would light up at the generosity of another,” recalled barista Claudia La Du. “It altogether was such a great time, seeing all the happy faces and sharing more good.”
And that was exactly the point: to share “more good.”
The $100 movement was just the latest display of positivity orchestrated by Orient’s Mary Latham, who has been traveling the country for the better part of two years spreading stories of generosity, kindness and compassion as part of More Good Today, a social media initiative aimed at spreading the notion that there is more good in this world than bad.
To date, Ms. Latham, a 31-year-old professional photographer, has traveled nearly 30,000 miles and visited 34 states, building a network of individuals who help her spread tales of good across social media and the internet. Dozens of newspapers and television stations have shared her mission, including “Today” and MSNBC.
For her dedication to spreading kindness, and the effect it has had on others, Ms. Latham has been selected as the 2018 Suffolk Times Person of the Year.
One follower of Ms. Latham’s Facebook page recently wrote that she’s “the pebble in the pond. The ripple is wonderful.”
Consider, for example, the April 2017 story she shared about Ben, a Massachusetts boy who had recently battled cancer and now buys toys for children at the hospital where he was treated. He dresses as a superhero to deliver the toys. After reading about Ms. Latham in a newspaper and later learning of Ben, a Rhode Island man and his co-workers went out and bought even more toys. The man then drove three hours to meet up with Ben, and they delivered the new toys together.
“There are people who I’ve never met now connected to other people [who I have met] on this journey,” Ms. Latham said in describing how blown away she is by the network of do-gooders that has been created through her Facebook page.
Ms. Latham’s journey actually began Dec. 14, 2012, the morning of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. She was at her desk at work that morning, devastated by the news, when a colleague shared a story with her about his trip to work that day. He was picking up a cup of coffee at a Manhattan Starbucks when another man, who was purchasing gift cards for his staff, decided to buy an additional $100 card and asked the barista to use it on the customers behind him until it ran out.
Speaking on the phone with her mother, Pat, later that night, Ms. Latham was lamenting how hard it is to stay positive in a world with so much negative news.
“[My mom] told me, ‘You have to think about that guy who went out and got the coffee. Think about what a beautiful thing he did for those people,’ ” Ms. Latham recalled.
That phone call and advice has stuck with Ms. Latham, particularly as she coped with the loss of her mom, who had cancer and died just 10 weeks later, on March 1, 2013.
Inspired by the man in the coffee shop, Ms. Latham and a friend created a social media page, where they shared stories of positivity. Following her mom’s death, Ms. Latham was drawn even more strongly to that mission as she dealt with her grief.
After running the page for nearly four years, she decided she wanted to dedicate the majority of her time to More Good Today, and her road trip began Oct. 29, 2016. She’s driving her mom’s old Subaru on the journey.
The trip won’t end until Ms. Latham has visited all 50 states — likely to occur at some point in 2019 — sharing stories of kindness and gratitude from each locale. Eventually, she aims to turn the stories and photographs she’s gathered into an inspirational book. She envisions it being donated to hospitals across the country, where it can be used to cheer up people in waiting rooms. She’d also like to write a more personal book about her travels.
In the meantime, she’s already shared dozens of inspiring stories and photographs of the people she meets with her thousands of social media followers. In the past month alone, she’s told the story of a woman who saved animals during the horrific California wildfires and a Kansas woman who lost her arms and legs after being shot during a robbery, but had her faith in humanity restored by the good others did for her as she healed and now pays it forward. Earlier this year, she wrote about a man in Arizona who tutored prison inmates to help them earn their GEDs and an Oregon man with Down syndrome who grows food in his backyard and donates it to local food pantries.
In July, Ms. Latham met a teacher in Pocatello, Idaho, who organizes a prom for special needs students each year. Of his efforts, a student told a local news station doing a piece on Ms. Latham that the teacher “does it because he loves all his kids and I really enjoy him because he’s made life a lot easier and he’s made my life a lot easier.”
And Ms. Latham has made it easier for her followers to receive inspiration through stories like these.
Through the $100 movement, for which she asked people to perform $100 acts of kindness on the sixth anniversary of the day she received the inspiration for her mission, many more people were touched by the good that comes from her journey.
One good Samaritan donated $100 to a North Fork pediatrician to be put toward a family with an outstanding bill, Ms. Latham said. Elsewhere, someone noticed a woman with two broken wrists getting her hair cut and paid the bill.
“Those were great,” Ms. Latham said. “That’s people looking around for someone who needed help and they did it.”
Asked about the donation made at her store, North Fork Roasting Co. co-owner Jennilee Morris described the act, and Ms. Latham’s project, with perhaps the most appropriate word imaginable: “Beautiful.”
Want to get involved?
You can follow Ms. Latham’s journey at moregoodtoday.com, where donations to help “fuel the journey” are accepted. You can also follow More Good Today on Facebook and @moregood.today on Instagram.
Photo caption: Mary Latham caught a bit of November snow during a stop in St. Louis on her More Good Today trip. To date, the Orient resident has visited 34 states, stayed in 115 homes and traveled nearly 30,000 miles on her mission to showcase the good being done across the country. (Amy Camie courtesy photo)
2017: Eleanor Lingo
2016: Charles Reichert
2015: Kait’s Angels
2014: Jeff Heidtmann
2013: David Gamberg and Michael Comanda
2012: Southold Emergency Response Team
2011: Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh
2010: Scott Russell
2009: Ryan Creighton
2008: North Fork NJROTC
2007: Maureen’s haven
2006: Southold Town Animal Shelter
2005: Ronnie Wacker
2004: Josh Horton
2003: Regina Maris Crew
2002: Colin Van Tuyl
2001: Frank LePré
2000: Ellie Hall
1999: Sister Margaret Smyth
1998: Reverend Lynda Clements
1997: Tim Caufield
1996: Dr. Micah Kaplan
1995: David Kappell
1994: Bob Levy
1993: Walter Dohm
1992: Reverend Summers
1991: Planning Conference
1990: 350th Committee
1989: Lynne Richards
1988: Franklin Bear
1987: Linda Graham