What started as an act of kindness between a B.C. man and a hitchhiker in the Bahamas almost 50 years ago has now been shared around the world.
Cedric Steele, who now lives on Vancouver Island, was working as a realtor in Vancouver in 1968 and decided to vacation that year in the Bahamas.
When he was driving from the airport he saw a young man on the side of the road hitchhiking. “I stopped and picked him up and had a few bits of words for him, a little discussion, and it looked like he was struggling a little bit,” said Steele. “He was dressed a bit like a hippie.”
That “hippie” was a man named Iain Reddish.
He was travelling on a scholarship around North America and decided to go to the Bahamas for the day. However, after he arrived, his wallet was stolen. He was hitchhiking to get to Nassau when Steele picked him up.
“He picked me up, I was a 22-year-old, long-haired student, of that ilk. He took me into Nassau and as I was getting out of the car, he put $50 U.S. in my hand.”
“I thought ‘I can’t accept this. He said ‘look, I know you’re broke, it’s alright I’ve got money’.”
WATCH ABOVE: Victoria man Cedric Steele catches up with a hitchhiker he picked up back in 1968 named Iain Reddish, who now lives in Amsterdam.
Reddish said Steele told him he doesn’t owe him anything. “[But he said] ‘when you’re established and grown-up as it were, it’s up to you to pay it back to anyone you can help out to anyone down on their luck. That way we’ll survive in this world’.”
Steele said he never thought about the encounter again, but that message stuck with Reddish. Since 1968 he has helped dozens and dozens of people around the world who are down on their luck and he always tells them about what Steele said to him.
“It wasn’t so much what [Steele] said, but the way he said it. It was said in such a warm and caring way,” Reddish said.
The story comes full circle
In a surprise twist, Reddish has repeated the story so often to others, but he never thought anyone would tell him they have heard the story before.
Reddish, who is now 70 and has worked as a political scientist and for Greenpeace, was in his Amsterdam home last week when he saw a “bedraggled character” outside his window.
“I went down to see what his problem was, who he was and what he was doing there in front of my house, sitting on my bench,” Reddish said. The man turned out to be a Croatian refugee who had no money and nowhere to go. Reddish brought him inside his house and gave him some money and some clothes.
“He said ‘you’re such a good person’, and I said ‘I’m not a good person, it’s Cedric Steele who’s a good person.”
Reddish told the man to pay forward this act of kindness when he got back on his feet and he told him the story about Steele.
“Then to my amazement he said ‘you were in the Bahamas when this happened weren’t you?’ I said ‘what?’ I said ‘that’s extraordinary, but yes I was actually’.”
It turns out the Croatian man’s cousin had been hitchhiking in Namibia in Africa and had been picked up by a guy who gave him a meal and told him Reddish’s story.
“It’s clear that dear old Cedric had become an urban myth in his own lifetime.”
This encounter spurred Reddish to try and contact Steele and after about “14 seconds” of searching online, he found Steele on Vancouver Island. Reddish then called him.
“He was flabbergasted as you can imagine,” said Reddish. “Cedric said he was almost in tears and so was I. It’s just very very humbling when you realize you’ve done something worthwhile and helped humanity along its path.”
Steele said he feels a little embarrassed by the whole thing.
“I thought it was just a natural thing to do, to help somebody at that time,” he said. “I didn’t even remember the event, so for [Reddish] to have called me and remember my name and the circumstance. He’s a generous man.”
“It just shows you how the odd bit of kindness can multiply,” added Reddish.
The two hope to finally meet up again in Europe next year and Steele said he’s going to give Reddish a €50 note so he can keep passing on the acts of kindness.