Jack Knox: The good deed heard around the world

Jack Knox mugshot genericVictoria’s Cedric Steele was in a business meeting last week when his assistant interrupted: “You have a call from Amsterdam — a Dr. Iain Reddish.”

“Who’s Iain Reddish?” wondered Steele.

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And so began one of the stranger, more uplifting pay-it-forward stories you’ll ever hear. …

Actually, this tale goes back to the end of 1968, when 24-year-old Steele, celebrating a hot start to what would become a long and successful real-estate career, treated himself to a holiday in the Bahamas.

Driving from the Nassau airport, Steele picked up a hitchhiker. “He looked a little bit scraggly.” A bit of a hippie, if you will.

The hitchhiker was British, seemed to be an ambitious young man like Steele, but down on his luck.

Reddish remembers it like this: He was on a travelling scholarship, but had lost his wallet.

“I had no money whatsoever. When I got out of the car, he said: ‘You haven’t any money, have you, kid?’ ”

Then Steele passed Reddish $50 US.

Reddish said he would repay him, but Steele held up his hand.

“I said, ‘No need to pay me back,’ ” Steele, 71, recalls. “I said: ‘When you get established, if you find somebody you think needs a hand up, why don’t you help them out and pass it on?’ ”

Which is what Iain Reddish did, often, for the next 47 years.

He became an international environmental lobbyist, rattling political cages around the world. Everywhere he went — five continents, 50 or 60 countries — he picked up hitchhikers, sometimes buying them a coffee or a muffin, sometimes giving them a bit of money. “Then I’d tell them the story of how Cedric stopped for me all those years ago.” Pay it forward.

Last week, Reddish, now 70, was at home in Amsterdam when he spied a bedraggled-looking man on the street. “He was standing outside my house, looking dishevelled.”

“What are you doing here?” Reddish asked him.

“Trying to find work,” replied the man, who had travelled to the Netherlands from Croatia.

Reddish took the man inside, fed him, gave him some money and — since they were the same build, standing 6’3” — some clothes (“He looked quite good in them”).

“You’re a good man,” the Croat said.

“I’m not the good man,” Reddish replied. “Cedric Steele is the good man.” And then Reddish started to relate his 1960s anecdote, telling the Croat of the guy who once gave him $50.

This is where things got seriously weird, in a good way.

“He interrupted me and said ‘I’ve heard this story before,’ ” Reddish says.

Pardon?

“He said ‘aha, this happened in the Bahamas, didn’t it?’ ”

Reddish was dumbfounded.

It turns out the Croat had heard the story from a relative who had been travelling in Africa. “His cousin was hitchhiking in Namibia last year and was picked up by someone who told him the story.” Included in the Croat’s account were a couple of details that confirmed it was the same tale.

Reddish has no idea how the story reached Namibia. Reddish himself was there 20 years ago, doing some work for Greenpeace International, but can’t recall giving anyone a lift.

He was tickled to hear his own story echo back from the Croat, though.

Reddish decided to look up Steele — whose name he had remembered all these years — to let him know he had become a global urban legend. Finding him took all of 13 seconds on Google.

Steele is glad Reddish made the effort. “I had tears in my eyes,” he says. “It’s a heartwarming story.”

The president of Cedric Steele and Associates, he has lived in Victoria since 1975, the year after buying Prospect Lake Golf Course. He is known for his good citizenship, having received the Community Spirit Award from the Salvation Army, the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, the Chancellor’s Community Recognition Award from Royal Roads University, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal. In December, he will retire after 18 years as an honorary captain in the Royal Canadian Navy, where he has served as a bridge between the military and the business community.

He says he hopes to meet Reddish in Europe next year.

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