Billy Ray Harris had a heartwarming conversation with his sister Friday, and the homeless man is considering moving to be closer to his family in Texas.
His first conversation with his sister in nearly two decades came as a result of national attention given to Harris after he returned a diamond ring to its owner.
"It took me by surprise and I'm real shocked, but I'm happy to know where my brother is," Robin Harris told KCTV5.
A week ago, KCTV5 reported how Sarah Darling had given her spare change to Billy Ray Harris, who panhandles at the Country Club Plaza. While doing so, she accidentally dumped her engagement ring into his can.
When she noticed the next day that she had her wedding ring but not her engagement ring, she panicked. She rushed to the Plaza, but Billy Ray Harris was not there. She returned the next day and found him.
When she asked, he returned the ring to her.
A simple act of doing the right thing by a man who lives underneath a bridge drew headlines across the world. The Huffington Post and Yahoo.com featured stories on Billy Ray Harris and Darling. National networks sent reporters to Kansas City. CBS featured the story.
"What I actually feel like is, 'what has the world come to when a person who returns something that doesn't belong to him and all this happens?'" Billy Ray Harris said.
Robin Harris saw one of the reports in Wichita Falls, TX, where she lives now. She called KCTV5's Betsy Webster, who did the original report, to ask for her help in reconnecting with her brother.
"I want him to know that we love him and we miss him," she said. "We want him here and he (can have) a roof over his head if he chooses to come home."
Billy Ray Harris and Darling reunited on Thursday night.
"I'm so grateful," she said to him.
"I could tell exactly how much it meant to you the moment I held it up like that," Billy Ray Harris said to her. "I knew that probably meant more than any amount of money."
He remains modest about his deed, and is uncomfortable that those enjoying the Plaza now recognize him. He admitted some are giving him money and talking to him when they would look away before.
"It's more stressful than what I'm doing right now," he said when asked if he liked being a celebrity."Does Tom Cruise have to be all that? I could never be an actor."
Billy Ray Harris said the attention's been overwhelming. He's glad he sparked an awareness that it's better to give than receive, but he's not terribly comfortable with the outpouring.
"I like it, but I don't think I deserve it," he said.
His modesty comes from being taught growing up by his reverend grandpa the difference between right and wrong. He said his grandfather also emphasized that your reputation is most important.
"He said, 'I don't care how much money you got or what you lose. Always try to keep your name out of the mud,'" he recounted.
Billy Ray Harris said he is glad that his story has reminded others of the beauty of the adage that it is better to given than to receive.
"That's priceless," he said about his role in that.
He said he had actually thought the ring was costume and had thought about tossing it in the trash because he would have no use for it.
But he also began to suspect by the way the light glittered off the diamonds that it was real.
"I had that little devil on my shoulder saying, 'Keep the money, keep the money,'" he said.
But he listened to the angel and did the right thing.
During their reunion, Billy Ray Harris reminded Darling to never again put her exquisite ring in her change purse, which she readily agreed to.
"I will never do that again," she said sheepishly. "It was something really close to me that meant so much to me. It's a symbol of my relationship with my husband and my family."
Darling's a little shy about the spotlight too - she's embarrassed by her snafu, but glad she shared the story.
"It just seems like it was almost meant to be. I just hope it results in good things for you," she told Billy Ray Harris.
After the two hugged and said goodbye, Webster asked Billy Ray Harris if he knew a woman named Robin Harris in Texas.
"That is my baby sister," the delighted man said.
When Webster gave Billy Ray Harris his sister's telephone number, he broke into a broad grin.
"This is exactly my biggest reward right here," he said about returning Darling's ring.
Robin Harris lost touch with Billy Ray Harris in 1990 - the whole family did. She was in tears when she told KCTV 5 that she and others in the family thought he was dead.
"I saw it on the computer this morning. I saw his picture and then looked again," Robin Harris said. "I started calling all of my brothers and sisters to tell them."
The relief was mutual.
"That is a gift, I been so freaking worried about my sister. My baby sister and my middle sister, they are my best friends in the whole world," Billy Ray Harris said.
His sister offered him a roof and he's still considering. He doesn't want to be a burden.
"He can come home, I have a roof for him, but if he doesn't want to come home, I can't make him," Robin Harris said.
Billy Ray Harris is looking to save up bus money to get him to Texas. He said public transportation is limited in Wichita Falls so he would like to have enough money to buy a vehicle to provide him transportation once he gets there.
He currently lives underneath a bridge. He said he is too independent to live in shelters. He has lived at times with others who have opened their doors to him, but none of those arrangements have been permanent.
Billy Ray Harris said hearing from his sister and re-connecting with her is precious to him whether he moves to Texas or not.
Whether he is homeless or not, he says depends on your definition.
"Under the good Lord's purposes, I'm not homeless because I've got the biggest roof in the world over my head," he said.
Billy Ray Harris doesn't have a bank account. Dozens of concerned Americans have contacted KCTV5 about wanting to provide something to the man to show appreciation for him doing the right thing.
Because he lives underneath a bridge, he does not have a place to store large tangible items. He did provide an address for a friend, who he trusts to handle any correspondence.
Billy Ray Harris
c/o Everett Devan
Kansas City, MO 64112
A website was set-up to help make monetary donations to Billy Ray. Go to www.giveforward.com/billyray to make a donation.
If you have more questions, email KCTV5's Betsy's Webster.
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