Okay, so if you haven’t yet heard of Ted Williams, you need to. It’s a great story.

At the beginning of this week Ted Williams was homeless. He was begging on the streets, panhandling at intersections.

Ted Williams from Ohio, the inspirational story of the man with the golden voice

Ted Williams, inspirational story

Early this week he stood by the side of Interstate 71 in Columbus Ohio holding a sign that said “I have a God given gift of voice”, asking for help.

Ted Williams - the inspirational story of the panhandling man turned viral video star

Ted Williams panhandling in Ohio

A reporter for the Columbus Dispatch saw the sign, and chose to video the interaction. He posted the amazing video on YouTube and it instantly went viral, getting over 13 million views in just around 48 hours (an unprecedented explosion of popularity).

Here’s the video:

What happens next is nothing short of motivating, inspirational, and just plain amazing.

Seeing the video, he’s invited onto several shows, including the Today Show, CBS Morning News, and numerous others. He was flown to New York, his home town, by the Today Show, where he was also able to meet his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in more than a decade.

Ted Williams on Today

Williams tells his story of starting out as a radio announcer, but falling into alcohol and drugs, to the point where they took over his life, and he lost everything. His family (9 kids – 7 daughters and 2 sons), wife, home, job, everything.

Living in a tent, he finally decided he needed a change. He’s been 2 years clean now.

In the aftermath of the viral video, thankfully captured and brought to YouTube, he’s been offered numerous jobs, including becoming the official voice for Kraft, an announcer for the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, and Quicken even called him up and gave him a fully-paid mortgage to buy a house or apartment.

Through it all, he’s keeping God in the center, repeatedly offering up his gratitude in these public interviews.

On the Today show, just a few days after being discovered, he was asked if he had a newfound appreciation for the homeless, to which he replied:

“Please don’t judge a book by its cover. Everybody has their own little story.”

Here are several videos chronicling the inspirational journey.

Interview with Today Show

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Interview with CBS

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Bob May had always been different.  Small, weak, and slight as a child, he was regularly ridiculed, bullied, and made fun of.  He spent his whole childhood like that.

Eventually, he graduated from Dartmouth College in 1926 and married the love of his life, Evelyn.  Together they had a beautiful daughter named Barbara.

Bob became a copy writer for Chicago based Montgomery Ward.  It was the great depression, and they led a modest, but meaningful life, before everything changed.

Evelyn got cancer.  She passed away just days before Christmas in 1938. Bob was 34, Barbara was only 4.

Pressed with grief, and stooped in medical bills, the father and daughter struggled to with each passing day.

At work, Montgomery Ward had been purchasing and giving away coloring books each year for Christmas, and this year they decided to make their own to save money.  They approached Bob May and asked him to write a story.

Bob thought of his own life, always feeling different, always feeling like you can’t get ahead.  He associated with the story of the ugly duckling.  Drawing on these powerful emotions, but fueled by the belief in the hidden value within each of us, he wrote the story of a cast-away, mis-fit reindeer.

Originally named Rollo, then Reginald, bob finally settled on Rudolf.  He tested it on his 4 year old daughter, who loved it.

He submitted the story to his boss, who was worried about the red nose (fearing the association with drinking and drunkenness).  But Bob believed in his vision, and took his friend Denver Gillen, who worked in Montgomery Wards art department, to the Lincoln Park Zoo to create a sketch of rudolf based on real reindeer.

The illustrations gave life to the story, and it was quickly approved for distribution.

Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of their Rudolf booklet in 1939. In spite of wartime paper shortages, which curtailed printing over the next few years, they still printed 6 million copies by the end of 1946.

Post-war demand for licensing the Rudolf character were enormous, but while May was the creator, he held no copyright, and received no royalties.

Finally, a major publisher approached Montgomery Ward wanting to purchase rights to print an updated version of the story.  Knowing that May was deeply in debt from Evelyn’s medical bills, Montgomery Ward’s corporate president, Sewell Avery, in an unprecedented gesture of generosity, turned the copyright over to May in January 1947.

That year it was printed commercially, featured in theaters as a 9 minute cartoon, and gained huge popularity.  May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for a song based on the Character, titled “Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer”.

The song was originally turned down by Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, but was finally recorded by Gene Autry and became a phenomenal success.  It sold more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas”.

Bob’s belief in the hidden value within us all became a reality that changed his life, and has impacted millions upon millions of people.  His vision and belief had become a reality.

May you recognize the light within yourself, no matter how deeply hidden, and find a way to make it real.

Merry Christmas,


Robert May and his creation, rudolf the red-nosed reindeer

Robert May and his creation, Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer, symbolizing his belief in our hidden value.

When you’re amazing… when you’ve found something that you absolutely love, and you’ve dedicated yourself to it, pursuing it with the full force of your passion and vigor, you can do amazing things.  Things that stun your audience.

Federrer just did it in his victory over Brian Dabul on opening night at the US Open.  He did it last year against Novak Djokovic as well.

If you missed it, here’s the without-looking, between-the-legs shot.  It is… amazing.

I love watching those moments when a whole lifetime of effort and time and sweat and tears and pain and sacrifice all culminate in a single, astounding moment.

Thanks Roger, for inspiring me.


Image (Josh Haner)