JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - His plan was to make a stop in Region 8 on the way to Utah, but Richard Tome ended up making Jonesboro his home ten years ago. Maybe not entirely by choice, but sometimes life, wrapped with misfortune, has other plans.
"I have 32 stents, or so they tell me," Richard Tome, July's Gr8 Acts of Kindness winner said. "I was told the next time, I will have to have bypass surgery, but we'll cross that bridge when it gets here."
Tome suffered a heart attack while staying at the Salvation Army.
A retired florist and native of Maryland, Tome passed through Northeast Arkansas so that he could make a stop at Teleflora.
Having operated a flower shop, greenhouse, and nursery for 36 years, Tome planned to visit the business then be on his way.
But, he camped at Craighead Forest Park and decided to stay for a while. Then through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Tome lost his retirement savings.
"I had no income," Tome said. "My disability had not kicked in yet."
So, for a while he lived place to place and then, he found himself living out of his vehicle.
"I lived in my van in the back parking lot on Main Street for three weeks," he said.
But, soon he began going to church at the Jonesboro Seventh Day Adventist Church.
"He would never complain about it," Natalie Johnson-Leslie said.
Johnson-Leslie attends church with Tome.
"He's not a complainer. He's always just, 'I am blessed by the best, and there's no contest,' is what he keeps telling me," she said.
Tome began using his skills as a florist to brighten the sanctuary with seasonal flower arrangements. He cleans the church, helps with an annual blanket brigade, and volunteers at the Salvation Army soup kitchen.
"I had a pacemaker put in a year ago," Tome said. "I have too much energy."
That energy spills over into numerous volunteer opportunities at the St. Bernards Senior Life Center.
Tome assists with the Food Bank distribution every week; decorates the center for every holiday; and shares cupcakes, cookies, and other items with seniors at the center.
"I have seen him, at times, when you know he did not feel, like being there and doing things," Rev. JR McElhannon said about Tome and his heart issues. "But he has his jobs that he does, and he does them well."
"Congratulations," Allen Williams, Community President at First Community Bank, said while shaking Tome's hand. "Thank you for all of the kindness you give back to the community."
Williams was part of the crew who surprised Tome with the Gr8 Acts of Kindness award and $408 in cash.
"You have no idea how much I appreciate this," Tome said as tears welled up in his eyes. "The really neat thing is that my truck insurance is coming due, and I didn't have the money to pay it, and now I do."
Tome's friends from St. Bernards Senior Life Center and Jonesboro's Seventh Day Adventist Church nominated him for the award.
He recently suffered a devastating fire that claimed the trailer where he was living but just a few hours after the loss of his home and possessions, Tome was back to volunteering.
"He was back here the very next day," Conaway said. "We were very surprised. Life is tough, but Richard makes the most of it."
"When you think about Richard, you think about giving." Steve Leslie said.
Leslie also goes to church with Tome.
"I think many times we forget that our lives are better when we touch the lives of others," Leslie said. "We focus so much on work and everything else in our lives that gets us into that busy mode. We forget our existence here is to help others. As we help others, we help ourselves."
Tome now shares an apartment with a friend. He works part-time for Little Debbie Snacks and spends the rest of his time volunteering.
He also works for Cooksey's Flower Shop during holidays and busy times for florists. Not once during his tough times of living on the streets and at the mercy of strangers did he lose hope.
"You just have to take one day at a time, " Tome said. "I've never thought of there being no tomorrow because there always is."
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