Three years and a month had passed from when Mary Latham began her quest to spread kindness across the country to when she drove across the East Marion Causeway Saturday on her way back home.
It was there that she was greeted by a few dozen supporters, who cheered her on as she made her way to a welcoming reception in her hometown of Orient.
Along the journey Ms. Latham began when she was 29, she visited all 50 states, stayed in 154 homes and logged 42,000 miles 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.
As she made her way through the crowd at the Orient firehouse, Ms. Latham eventually found the one person she needed to see most at the conclusion of her long, ambitious journey: her dad, Jim.
“I was very overwhelmed,” Ms. Latham said of wrapping up her tireless journey to a line of hugs from friends and family. “When I saw my dad and went to give him a hug, then it really hit me.”
She was home.
Initially planned as a roughly 18-month journey, Ms. Latham said she never lost sight of her end goal, despite the toll the solitary journey took on her physical and emotional state, as she often spent days at a time alone in a car driving from one state to another. While she returned home for occasional breaks, the project has been a full-time job for the now 32-year-old and the work is not finished.
The professional photographer now aims to combine the stories she collected with the photos she took along the way for a book she aims to publish. She plans to take the next couple months off to relax and recover before she begins to write.
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 last year.
That phone call and advice has stuck with Ms. Latham, particularly as she coped with the loss of her mother, 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 mother’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 drove her mother’s old Subaru on the journey.
In the final year of her trip, Ms. Latham — The Suffolk Times’ Person of the Year in 2018 — visited 16 states, including Hawaii and her native New York, which served as the final two stops. In Hawaii she stayed at a house with the street address of 152 and it was her 152nd home.
The final story she collected came right here on Long Island, where she stayed with a choir director who raises money for cancer research. Everyone in the choir has a personal connection to the disease. They sent her off with an opera song: “Time to Say Goodbye.”
“That was really cool to have that be the final moments of the trip,” she said.