From NBC’s TODAY programme.
‘His spirit has been rejuvenated,’ said Sarah Darling, who accidentally dropped her engagement ring in Billy Ray Harris’ donation cup in February. Harris returned the ring and the story inspired donors around the world. Sarah Darling and her husband Bill have since formed a lifelong friendship with Harris.
A few short months ago, 55-year-old Billy Ray Harris was homeless. He lived on a street corner in Kansas City, holding out a cup and asking passers-by for spare change. But then, one day, his life changed.
Last February Sarah Darling passed Harris at his usual spot and dropped some change into his cup. But, unbeknownst to her, she also accidentally dropped in her engagement ring. Though Harris considered selling the ring — he got it appraised for $4,000 — he ultimately couldn’t go through with it, and a few days later, he returned the ring to Darling.
‘I am not trying to say that I am no saint, but I am no devil either,’ he said at the time.
‘I was so incredibly upset’, said Sarah Darling, who lost the ring, ‘because, I mean, more than the value of the ring, it had sentimental value,’
Realising her loss she had returned to the same spot in the Plaza where she had first encountered Harris. Squatting down beside him, she asked if he remembered her.
‘I don’t know.’ Harris replied. ‘I see a lot of faces.’ Darling then said she may have given him something very valuable the day before. Then Harris then knew exactly who she was.
‘I says, ‘Was it a ring?’ Harris recalled. ‘And she says, ‘Yeah.’
The homeless man then pulled the ring from his pocket and presented it to Darling.
‘It seemed like a miracle. I thought for sure there was no way I would get it back,’ Darling told KCTV5. ‘I think in our world we often jump to like the worst conclusion, and it just makes you realize that there are good people out there.’
Though Harris had lived beneath a bridge and begged for his living in the Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., he says, ‘my grandfather was a reverend. He raised me from the time I was six months old, and thank the good lord, it’s a blessing, but I do still have some character.’
So while Darling rewarded Harris with all the cash she was carrying in her wallet, perhaps even greater reward was the homeless man’s sense of pride that he had done the right thing.
As a way to say thank you, Sarah and her husband Bill started a fund to raise money for Harris, to help him get his life back on track. ‘We set a goal for a thousand dollars,’ Darling told TODAY in March. ‘We set it up because a lot of people who had been touched by the story expressed interest in helping Billy Ray.’
The fund raised far more than any of them expected — in just three months, people donated more than $190,000.
Harris talked to a lawyer, who helped him put the money in a trust. Since then, he’s been able to buy a car and even put money down on a house, which he’s fixing up himself.
And that’s not all: After he appeared on TV, his family members, who had not been able to find him for 16 years and had heard rumors he was dead, were able to track him down. They were happily reunited, and Harris is now working on his relationship with them, including nieces and nephews he hadn’t even known existed.
‘When I think of the past, I think, thank God that it’s over,’ he told TODAY. ‘I mean, I feel human now.’
And the Kansas City community hasn’t forgotten about Harris and his good deed. ‘I still see some of the same people,” he says, ‘but only now, instead of coming up and giving me change, they’re coming up shaking my hand and, you know, saying ‘hey, good job’.’
Since the fateful day that Darling’s ring landed in his cup, Billy Ray Harris’ life has done a 180. ‘This is what they call the American Dream,’ he says. ‘I want to thank all the people that helped me out. I want them to see where all their efforts, blessings and kindness is going.’ I got an air mattress now, it’s like living like a king compared to where I was,” he said.
Later the TV station reunited Billy Ray with his family, who he’d fallen out of touch with.
‘I never would’ve thought this,’ Billy Ray Harris said during a joyous reunion with his siblings on the TODAY show on Sunday. ‘This was a total shock.’