South Hempstead man completes cross-country trip to ‘pay it forward’

Spends 18 days spreading kindness in wake of tragedy

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One man. One van. Eighteen days. More than 9,400 miles. Countless impact. South Hempstead resident Tommy Maher, who embarked earlier this month on a cross-country drive to honor the 58 victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, returned home last Saturday after spreading kindness in the hometowns of those killed at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on Oct. 1.
“His intention was to honor the victims,” said Maher’s wife, Cindy, who joined him for the last week of his journey, “but it’s done so much more than that.” Riding in van sporting the words a “Pay it Forward,” Maher, 51, a retired New York City sanitation worker, 34-year volunteer firefighter and 14-year commissioner of the South Hempstead Fire Department, began the trip west on Nov. 7 with his daughter, South Side High School student Kelli and her friend Aline. Wanting to spread random acts of kindness, the trio took 58 bracelets — each engraved with a victim’s name — with them, as well as a 59th, which represented first responders and survivors. After each good deed — which ranged from leaving large tips at restaurants to buying people meals to simply handing someone a rose — they passed along a bracelet, which the recipient was asked to give to someone else after performing a kind act. The Herald last spoke with the travelers on Nov. 9, as they neared Colorado. Soon afterward, Kelli and Aline flew home to go back to school as Maher visiting California, Canada and other locales to do as much good as possible. Maher’s stops in California, where many of the victims lived, included visits with two support groups for those affected by the Las Vegas tragedy. There he explained what he was doing, and met two girls, who were shot at the festival — one in the jaw and one in the arm. “I met so many people that way on those two nights,” he said, “[and] got to hear all the stories from the people who were there.” After Cindy met up with her husband in Reno, Nev., they headed north to Bainbridge Island, Wash., to honor Carrie Parsons, a 31-year-old who was killed at the concert. Stopping in a restaurant, Maher searched for somebody who had known the woman to offer the bracelet to. Having no luck, he found himself asking for help. “I’m talking to myself,” Maher recalled. “I’m like, ‘Carrie, you’ve got to help me find somebody for your bracelet.’” He and Cindy left the eatery and caught a glimpse of people in a church lobby. They asked them if they had known Carrie, and discovered that the bishop there owned the funeral home in town and had conducted her services. He said he knew the Parsons family, and would give them the bracelet. The people at the church that night would not normally be there, Maher said, but were attending an annual meeting. “There were a couple things along the way that happened like that,” he said. “…Just amazing occurrences that kind of connected a lot of things for me.” Heading back toward the East Coast, the Mahers stopped in Chicago on Thanksgiving, where they met up with two Chicago police officers who had attended the Las Vegas festival as concertgoers. The two received the bracelet for Carly Kreibaum, whose friends they helped bring to safety that night. “For people that had survived such a horrific event, for them to be able to experience some goodness, they didn’t want to pass up the chance to meet him,” Cindy said. “It’s amazing that he can have that kind of impact.” She added that during the first half of the trip, friends in South Hempstead and Rockville Centre were supportive, bringing her family dinner on some nights. (The Mahers also have two sons.) The trip was not unusual for Tommy, Cindy said. He also drove to Houston after Hurricane Harvey to help with the relief efforts. “It’s this feeling he gets in his gut and his heart,” she said. “This kind of calling he gets that he wants to do something more for people, no matter what it is.” When he returned home, where he was greeted by friends, family and neighbors jumping up and down in the street beside his driveway, Maher offered one last message in a video on the Honor58 Facebook page, where he posted updates of his trip. People from around the country also visited the page to post support and appreciation to the Maher family. “My journey’s over driving-wise,” he said in the final video, “but hopefully this whole journey is just beginning for everyone to continue the kindness, continue honoring the 58 [victims] and also the first responders and survivors. “It’s not about how long you live, it’s about how you’re living,” he concluded, “and hopefully the kindness will continue.”
Enlarge map to full screen for best viewing experience. Map illustration by Christina Daly