It was Labor Day, 1966 and a young father, with his wife and four-month old baby boy, were driving across the high plains of Wyoming late at night. The father thought he had enough gas to make it to Rock Springs but with the lights of the town in sight the car sputtered and rolled to a stop.
Dreading the thought of leaving his young family alone while he walked to get gas he was relieved to see a white El Camino pull off the road in front of them. The man driving the El Camino was a repairman for the oil-drilling rigs nearby and the back of his car was filled with all kinds of tools – and two 30-gallon cans of gas. He pumped several gallons of gas into the tank of the stalled car, added a little to the carburetor, and waited to make sure it would start.
The grateful father offered to pay for the gas but the Good Samaritan refused any payment. He returned to his El Camino and was about to drive away when he seemed to remember something. He got back out of his car and returned to speak to the young father.
He told him he had changed his mind, and that he did want payment for his good deed. He told him next time he saw someone stranded by the side of the road he wanted him to stop and offer help. The father, filled with gratitude, readily agreed to this request and they parted company, never to meet again.
Thirteen years later the father, older and wiser, purchased a car dealership in Salt Lake City. The business was a big success and soon other car dealerships followed. Before he was finished he was the owner of a business empire which, in addition to car dealerships, included restaurants, movie theaters, and professional sports teams.
He had unexpectedly become one of the richest people in the state. He shared his good fortune with others by donating millions of dollars to worthy causes and was soon known as much for his generosity as for his business success.
Larry H. Miller, best known as the owner of the Utah Jazz basketball team, might well have become a world-class philanthropist without running out of gas that night in 1966 but the act of kindness he received from a stranger, along with the instruction to pay him back by helping others, had a profound impact on Miller. Speaking of it over 50 years later Miller said, “I have come to realize that each of us during our lives ‘runs of gas,’ either figuratively or literally. Each of us has the opportunity to be the giver and receiver of help in some way. I have tried to remember that stranger’s example throughout my life and to keep my promise made to him.”
Later in life helping stranded motorists he happened to run into wasn’t enough for Miller. He went out looking for them. When it snowed in Salt Lake he would grab his grandson, get in his 4-wheel drive, and drive around town looking for cars to pull out of the snow. By all accounts the late Larry H. Miller more than fulfilled the promise he made as a young man in the middle of the night on a lonely Wyoming highway to “pay it forward.”