Michael De Beyer, Like Don Bedwell, An Exemplary Ethics Hero To Inspire Us

Mathis and hero

Writing about my favorite Ethics Hero of all time, Don Bedwell, in 2005, I began, “There are special and rare people whose ethical instincts are so pure and keen that they can make the rest of us feel inadequate.” Like Don Bedwell, Micheal De Beyer is such an individual.

Brittany Mathis, 19, works for De Beyer at his  Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten in Montgomery, Texas, . Her mom and older sister work at the restaurant as well, so she would describe her boss as a family friend. In December, Brittany learned that she has a 1.5 inch brain tumor  She can’t afford to find out whether the tumor is benign or malignant, but her father died from a similar tumor years ago, so her situation is dire. She doesn’t have health insurance.

De Beyer has decided to sell his restaurant, which he opened more than 15 years ago and has an estimated worth of $2 million, to pay for whatever medical treatments are necessary to save Brittany’s life. “I’m not able to just sit by and let it happen,” De Beyer told a local paper. “I couldn’t live with myself; I would never be happy just earning money from my restaurant knowing that she needs help.”

Most of us don’t think like this. Don Bedwell donated a kidney to save the life of Barbara Rector, a waitress who had told him while he was dining in her restaurant that she was going to have to stop working because her kidneys were failing. He told those who expressed amazement at his altruistic act, giving his kidney to a woman he barely knew, that he didn’t think it was remarkable at all. From the post:

After all, he says, lots of children and grandchildren depend on people that have no healthy kidneys, and so many people are walking around with an extra one. It is clear that to Bedwell, it didn’t matter that he barely knew Barbara Rector. All that mattered was that she was a human being who needed help, and that he was in a position to give it. To Bedwell, it was an easy choice. But it was only an easy choice for a man with Bedwell’s ethical priorities. Most of us would consider the pain, the risk of surgery, and the lost work time as decisive disincentives. We would tick off reasons, excuses and rationalizations…

“If I give her my kidney, I won’t be able to give it to someone I really care about.”


“She wouldn’t give me her kidney; why should I give her mine?”

“Nobody gives their organs to strangers!”

“People will think I’m crazy!”

“She’ll find another donor.”

Most likely of all, it wouldn’t even occur to us to offer Barbara Rector a kidney. But let’s be absolutely clear: a world where offering a stranger a life-saving kidney is the natural thing to do would be a far more ethical, peaceful, generous and caring world than the one we live in now.

The same can be said of a world where an employer feels that giving up his business to save the life of a young woman who works there is the natural thing to do. People like Don Bedwell and Micheal De Beyer can can inspire us to build such a world, or if that seems too ambitious, at least a kinder, more generous one than we live in now.


Facts: SF Gate, The Courier, KHOU

14 thoughts on “Michael De Beyer, Like Don Bedwell, An Exemplary Ethics Hero To Inspire Us

  1. Jack:
    I think you have chosen two worthy candidates. However, in Mr. De Beyer’s case selling the restaurant seems drastic and possibly economically detrimental to the other workers. I could see several other ethical options available to him that would achieve the same end.

    He could have guaranteed the hospital charges pledging the restaurant assets as collateral for a loan to pay for the surgery and hospitalization thus maintaining an income stream to pay the P&I of the loan as well as ensuring employment for the mother and sister.

    The above assumes the valuation is based on the net book value of the restaurant.

    If the valuation was based on PV of the income streams then I would suspect that the net earnings of the restaurant – exclusive of the owners wages- exceeded $100,000 year. That $100,000 estimate is based on a very low 5% discount rate. Thus, restaurant profits could be pledged to cover the surgical and hospitalization costs.

    Nonetheless, what he did went above and beyond any moral or ethical dimension of which I am aware. Perhaps this is a good reason to offer, at a minimum, catastrophic health insurance.

    • I agree, Chris, though the verdict of altruism and exemplary ethics does not require absolute wisdom. A gift of one’s life savings to a charity that expends more money on overhead than another that does equally good work but with more efficiency isn’t less generous or less ethical than one to the latter charity–it’s just smarter. On the other hand, those who pause to consider all the alternatives often dither so long that situations get worse, or just decide that there is no perfect solution, and use that as a rationalization to do nothing. in sacrifice, kindness and generosity, what De Beyer did can’t be easily topped. But we can always nit-pick it into seeming less than it is: “hey, I know about sick 10 year-old twins who could be saved—why not use that money to help them, instead?” It becomes like Robert Reich’s complaint, no?

      It’s not perfect, but it’s still damn good.

    • I didn’t click on Jack’s link, so I’m not sure if this info was in that particular article, but the one I read earlier indicated that he also wanted to sell in order to spend more time with his family. Some commenters on other sites are taking that as a reason to be critical, as if the fact that he wanted to sell anyway somehow negates or lessens his generosity; I don’t see it that way, as he has every right to sell his business (which would bring the possiblity of job loss in any case), and his decision to give the profits to Mathis rather than walk away with a tidy sum is generous and admirable.

      • I certainly expected that.

        Again, as so often comes up here, few acts of kindness and generosity are completely pure, and occur without some non-ethical considerations mixed in. Maybe De Beyer had been thinking about selling, and this clinched it. Maybe he has a pending offer for the restaurant that he had been resisting, but the tumor changed his mind. Yes, and maybe its all PR, he’s having an illicit affair with the girl and she’s carrying his love child, because nobody does anything except for self-interest. I don’t believe that.

        Based on what we know, he’s still reaching out to help a sick young woman when he appears to have no obligation to, other than being a fellow human being. That’s plenty.

        To my knowledge, Don Bedwell had no grudge against the kidney he gave away.

    • In general, guaranteeing a loan is a very, very bad idea, for the following reasons:-

      – You can achieve the same outcome as you intend by making a personal loan to the intended recipient, if necessary taking out a separate and distinct loan of your own to get the funds.

      – When you make a guarantee, there is nearly always some open ended up side risk from contingencies covered by the standard boiler plate wording, risks that can come up under unexpected circumstances; with the other approach, not only are any risks visible (if it looks too risky, better that than being too risky without looking it) but also they are inherently capped and manageable (and probably with lower fees for your own loan, if any), and time limited too if you planned it properly (or you wouldn’t have undertaken it as you would have understood it better).

  2. Mr. de Beyer deserves only praise here.

    It is less dramatic and won’t make the papers, but is it less ethical when another restaurant owner includes health insurance in the employee benefits?

    • I think that’s irrelevant. One can only assume the proprietor did his budgeting and market estimations and determined the inclusion of health insurance as a benefit would in turn push the need to raise his prices, which would in turn push overall volume of sales down as he sacrifices his margins that include more frugal customers. This in turn may have reduced the profitability of his restaurant enough to determine it’s not worth the effort. Then he shuts down and we don’t even hear this story at all.

      I think it’s too complex to make the comparison between a hypothetical restaurant that does include insurance and his restaurant which we assume didn’t.

      • If he shuts down and we don’t hear the story, and shuts down because he made sure his employees had health coverage, isn’t he an ethics hero?

  3. What a cynical society we have become. Too many self-serving people, too many past negative experiences, too reluctant to give people credit for their good deeds, too sure we know better how things should be done? Anyway, I still feel hopeful and happy when I hear stories like this.

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