While at the post office one day, Richard McGuinness ’60 took an extra minute to hold the door for an elderly woman. The response he got took him aback.
“She thanked me and told me it was the nicest thing that had happened to her in a very long time,” he recalls. Her reaction also got him thinking: “I realized we’re so busy and distracted these days that we often forget to slow down and allow time for good hearts to act.”
As the former chief operating officer for the American Cancer Society, McGuinness knows a thing or two about the power of good hearts in action, so he hatched a plan. “I contacted my friend Pat Fiorello — an artist and former vice president of marketing at Coca-Cola — and told her I thought we should start a Facebook page that celebrates small acts of kindness,” he says. “She liked the idea and with that, Unleashing Kindness was born.”
McGuinness and Fiorello were the first two to sign up, and a mere 36 months later, they’ve been joined by more than 17,000 others across 99 countries. “I had no idea what would happen,” McGuinness concedes. “It never occurred to me the page could go global — I was just hoping to energize the greater Atlanta community where I live.”
Yet the 81-year-old isn’t surprised that this labor of love has resonated with others. “There’s a lot of good in the world,” he insists. “Unfortunately, there’s so much animosity, vitriol and division flying around that people sometimes lose sight of that. So, we’re giving people a place to share their good acts, as well as the responses they receive.”
Although McGuinness concedes it wasn’t conscious, he agrees that the creation of Unleashing Kindness dovetails beautifully with the Jesuit value of being men and women for and with others. And that, he says, is no accident.
“In retrospect, my time at Holy Cross shaped my whole life,” he says. “As a sophomore and junior at the College, I discovered the joy of doing for others through volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, as well as rehabbing an old building for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.”
McGuinness joined the Air Force after graduation and when he completed his nine-year tour of duty and returned home to Worcester, his mind went back to how good he felt when volunteering. “I grabbed the phone book and began looking for nonprofits where I could apply for work,” he says. “The American Cancer Society was among the first listings, so I called them. Turns out, they had a job opening, I got the position and I worked for the organization for the next 32 years. Sometimes, there’s no grand plan — things just work out the way they’re supposed to, I guess.”
Making a difference in someone’s life is as simple as the impulsive act that set him upon his career path, McGuinness maintains: One must simply act. “If you think about it, love and kindness are action words,” he notes. “If you’re going to unleash kindness in a meaningful way, you’ve got to do something. I hope everyone reading this piece will join our Facebook group. There’s great joy in giving.”
Is being kind a habit or a conscious act?
A conscious decision that you hope becomes a habit.
To those who say small kindnesses no longer matter, you would say?
They’re wrong! A small act of kindness can make a huge difference in someone else’s life — it can even save a life.
What’s your favorite regular act of kindness?
Using people’s names when they are serving me or my family. Calling your cashier or waitress by name is so easy, yet it has such an impact. People go from invisible to visible; it’s a simple way to acknowledge their humanity.
What’s the kindest act you’ve witnessed in recent memory?
Last year, a veteran in Florida passed away and had no family left to mourn him, so hundreds of strangers showed up at his funeral. Along the same lines, a couple of years ago a group of young boys from a high school football team stepped forward to serve as pallbearers at the funeral of a veteran who died alone. I’ve also heard about a group of classic car collectors who visit their local nursing home every Sunday to take residents for a ride. Can you imagine the thrill of going out for a ride when you’re not able to get out much, if at all?
How would you finish this sentence: When you give your love away …
… you learn how to be really happy in life. Through kindness you learn that there are real benefits … to the giver as well as to the receiver.
Written by Lori Ferguson for the Spring 2020 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
About Holy Cross Magazine
Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.
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