Ethics Hero: Indianapolis Big Tipper, “Miss Jo”

Big Tip

It has been a rotten week in every way. My good friend and mentor, legal ethics expert/ attorney/ professor/performer David Austern died, leaving me with memories of how much he meant to my life, and how inadequately I thanked him. My son has been off on his first extended road trip without us, giving his mother and I a preview of how much we will miss him as he prepares to leave the nest. And, of course, I simultaneously watched our government fulfill my most pessimistic predictions as it appeared to fairly shamelessly embrace lies and abuse of power as legitimate tools of governance, and lost  respect for many, many people I had once thought better of for not only excusing the inexcusable, but embracing a looming threat to democracy.

Depressing, discouraging, frightening, and rotten through and through.

I need a break.

I need hope.

Thank you, Miss Jo, whoever you are.

All we know about “Miss Jo” is this, but it is enough: She is a regular customer at a Steak ‘n Shake restaurant in Indianapolis, and spontaneously left a $446 tip on a $5.97 bill for CeCe Bruce, a regular waitress there. You can read the whole story here.

It may not be a kidney, but this is a non-random act of kindness that should make us  stop and think. We all pay for outrageously undeserved bonuses for disgraced financial managers and corporate executives, as well as unconscionable government bonuses, like the $103,390 handed out just for the hell of it to the IRS manager during the years she presided over the agency’s “cripple the Tea Party” operation. Her section gave, according to Congressional testimony, “horrible customer service,” yet many Americans who give wonderful customer service never get bonuses of any kind from their appreciative public—secretaries, clerks, janitors, many others. What “Miss Jo” did for CeCe was to show real appreciation in a way that all of these people should experience on a regular basis. This wasn’t just an eccentric gesture. That tip was a genuine and apparently well-earned expression of thanks from someone whose days have been made a little bit more pleasant and endurable, thanks to the dedication and care of one of those invisible people we all depend on.

I don’t have a lot of money to throw around, but I can think of at least three people who have been to our family what CeCe Bruce has been to “Miss Jo,” and all I have ever given them was a handshake and some thank-yous, if that. They each deserve a bonus, and before 2013 is out, I’m going to give them one.

There’s no question that they’ve earned it.


Facts: WRCB TV

Graphic: WRBC TV

4 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Indianapolis Big Tipper, “Miss Jo”

  1. Thank you for writing on this story. Everyone needs a daily dose of hope and sometimes it can be very difficult to find.

  2. Sorry for your loss, Jack. Unfortunately, as you get older you will experience this more and more, and it doesn’t get any easier – especially when “I wish I would/could have…” comes out of your mouth and you realize that life is going by more quickly than you thought. BTW, now is an opportunity to pass on to someone else what David Austern did for you – a perfect memorial.

  3. Sadly, this sort of act is not possible for most, and maybe was not even possible for “Miss Jo”.

    Credit card processing usually limits gratuities to some fixed percentage of the bill, as a way of preventing the merchant from fraudulently “adding extra zeroes” (or–potentially–an extra “4” on the front?) to the tip after the patron has already signed and left.


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