Ron Johnson is proof that a simple act of kindness among strangers can resonate for years.
During his time behind the counter at the Salem Post Office, he saw a lot of familiar faces, and small talk was just part of his routine.
Irene Thompson became one of those faces, and took note of his friendly disposition, making a habit of going through his line, regardless of the wait.
The first time Irene walked into the post office with a package for her husband Shannon, who was deployed to Afghanistan with the the Second Battalion First Marines, she had no idea how to send it overseas.
Sensing her predicament, Johnson made it his mission to help her. A former military man himself, Johnson, perhaps without realizing it, always seemed to provide the words of encouragement that Irene needed to hear.
“It’s really wild. We helped everybody there that was military, or tried to the best we could,” Johnson said. “With certain people, you just kind of bond, and I did with her. If you’re that kind of person, that’s what you’re doing. You don’t expect it to come back to you.”
When her husband returned to the states in 2011, and they moved to the naval air station in Lemoore, Calif. with their daughter, Johnson didn’t think he would hear from Irene again.
Although they lived thousands of miles apart, and Shannon had never met Johnson, he felt a sense of gratitude that he said he didn’t know how to repay.
Through the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine, Shannon was able to nominate Johnson for a trip to Disney World.
“Acts of kindness like this and good deeds should be recognized more often,” Shannon said. “They shouldn’t go unnoticed, but should be treated as a substantial thing in society.”
When he received the phone call, Johnson said he was hesitant to believe that it was real.
“It was a producer in New York, and he called two or three times,” Johnson said. “I finally picked it up and he told me who he was, and that he had a story to tell me about something that happened several years back at the post office. I kind of thought I was getting pranked. He started talking, and as he got into it and said Irene Thompson, it just clicked.”
“You don’t hear the name Irene a lot,” he added.
Johnson and his fiancé, Kat, made the trip to Disney in November, where they were surprised by the Thompson family.
“I had no idea they were going to be there,” Johnson said. “Once they came running out, I just kind of hit the floor.”
Their story has made waves nationally, even appearing on “Good Morning America.” But for Shannon, Irene and Johnson, doing the right thing is just a part of who they are.
“He didn’t have to do what he did. He was just being himself,” Shannon said. “He’s been paying it forward his whole life. He’s just a genuine person.”
The Thompson family will be relocating to a North Caroline base in the next few months, and Shannon said he is looking forward to being closer to home, and spending more time with his family, including Johnson.
“Time goes by, and you don’t think you’ll ever see them again,” Johnson added. “I was just there as a sounding board for her. For her to open up to me and talk to me while she was basically by herself raising a kid, and for her to remember that– it was cool that you can have an impact like that on someone and without even knowing it.”