Thomas Cannon

Thomas Cannon Sr. (August 3, 1925–July 2, 2005)

Richmond
Philanthropist

Thomas Cannon (August 3, 1925–July 2, 2005) grew up in Chase City in a home with no electricity or plumbing and attended segregated schools until the seventh grade, when he left to support his family. During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as a signalman, a position then held by few African Americans. Cannon narrowly escaped harm on several occasions while in service, and later stated that this "made me believe that I was being preserved for something" and greatly influenced his philanthropy. He settled in Richmond, where he married and returned to school. In 1954 he earned an art degree from Hampton Institute (later Hampton University) and eventually worked for the U.S. Postal Service.

In 1972 Cannon began donating money, frequently choosing people who had been featured in the news. His recipients included people who had experienced great hardships or had performed distinguishing acts of heroism, generosity, or community service. On one occasion he boarded city buses to hand out envelopes filled with money. Although his annual salary never exceeded $25,000, Cannon funded his philanthropy by living simply. With his wife’s support, Cannon gave away more than $156,000. His generosity and unwavering spirit drew local and national recognition. After a report mentioned the poor condition of his house, a local developer helped organize a fund to give the Cannons a new home. In his final days Cannon requested that people honor him by helping others as he did throughout his life.

Watch Thomas Cannon Jr.'s speech on behalf of his late father, Thomas Cannon Sr., at the 2016 Strong Men and Women in Virginia History awards ceremony on February 3, 2016.