Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Country's waitress does the right thing by returning $1,300

A week ago, Tessa Smith did the right thing.

And, apparently, the right thing is getting much more difficult to do.

Smith, a 21-year-old single mother of two, has been employed at Country's on Mercury Drive for three years. She was a hostess last Tuesday during lunch when she went to clean a table. In the process of taking away the dirty dishes, she found an envelope that contained $1,300 in $100 bills.

That would buy a lot of diapers. But Tessa said the thought of pocketing the money never crossed her mind.

She immediately took the cash to her manager. Since that moment, the owner has been discovered and the money returned.

But consider what has happened to Tessa in a week. Her big boss, Country's owner Jim Morpeth, posted her picture on the barbecue restaurant's Facebook page. He thanked her for being a "hard-working hero."

That post has gotten more than 2,700 likes and has been shared about 100 times. She has been featured on television news reports in Columbus, Atlanta and Montgomery.

Even a producer from the Ellen DeGeneres Show called. The producer told Tessa -- also known as Kantessa -- she would call back.

The most interesting part of this -- not that talking to one of Ellen DeGeneres' producers is not interesting -- is that Dominick Perkins saw the story and decided Tessa needed to be rewarded. He started a "gofundme" page on the fundraising website with the goal of raising $1,300 for Tessa. Country's and its ownership was not involved in this. Tessa doesn't even know Perkins.

"People like Kantessa make the world a better place to live in and are a great example for the children of this community," Perkins wrote. "Kantessa did this out of the goodness of her heart, and though she didn't expect a reward, it would be wonderful if we could all give a little of ourselves to say thank you to her."

As of Monday afternoon, the effort had raised more than $1,500 in five days. All of that, minus the website's cut, belongs to Tessa.

So, here is my question, Tessa: Why is the fact that you returned the money you found such a big deal?

"You know," she said Monday afternoon between filling take-out orders, "I have been asking that same question."

Here is the conclusion that Tessa has reached.

"I thought I was doing something the next person would do, and apparently that is not the case anymore," she said.

What she did was the right thing. And she did it for the right reason.

If she had not done the right thing and it had been discovered, she would have probably lost her job, faced arrest and had a life more challenging than it already is.

And at the end of the day, she's going to get the $1,300 and little more.

There is a tremendous lesson in this story. Thanks, Tessa for teaching class today.

Chuck Williams, senior reporter,