It was Charlotte photographer Deborah Triplett’s 70th birthday, and she was out to lunch Tuesday doing what she loves most — sharing a meal with her brother, Ricky Triplett, and snapping photos of Ricky and their food.
So when a friendly man approached their table at Superica and offered to take a photo of the two of them, Deborah Triplett was delighted.
“That a stranger would ask that, it was so kind,” she said.
She and Ricky stood up so they could take a proper photo. She asked the stranger to snap several frames.
Then the thank yous were said, the camera was handed back over, and the biggest surprise of the lunch came when Ricky Triplett asked for the check.
Their tab had been paid. By the man who took the photo. Who was Jonathan Stewart, the former Carolina Panthers running back. Who made the biggest sports news of the day Tuesday by signing a one-day contract with the Panthers so he could retire from the NFL as a Panther.
“I was speechless,” Deborah Triplett said.
Neither she nor her brother follow football closely, so it didn’t occur to them that they were in the presence of a Charlotte football celebrity. (“Although Ricky did say ‘I thought he looked like someone I know,’ ” Deborah Triplett said with a laugh.)
They noticed no entourage. And when he walked off after snapping their photo, Stewart seemed to do so alone, Triplett said.
“My biggest regret is that I didn’t think to ask for a photo of him— not because of who he is, but because he was so kind,” Triplett said.
Stewart seemed surprised Wednesday when a reporter asked about his act of kindness after a news conference.
“Ha! Who told you about that?” he laughed. “It is the little things. I think everybody is so fixated on, you know, especially now-a-days with social media, you have to have a certain amount of followers and a certain amount of money in a bank account to make a difference. But Mother Teresa says it best: ‘Do what’s in front of you.’
“And you know, I think that’s at the end of the day what everyone really wants to do. I think society teaches you to hide behind the big cats or the people who have the followers or the trends,” Stewart said. “But I just want to encourage people to do what’s in front of them, like Mother Teresa said, and that’s what I’ve come to learn how to do.”
Stewart, 32, and his wife, Natalie, have long been involved in various charities within the Charlotte community, even after Stewart was signed to play for the New York Giants. (The couple recently purchased a local food and lifestyle blog “Charlotte Lately.”)
Little moments like Tuesday’s lunch are loaded with meaning for Triplett, who has spent the last six months battling stage 3 lung cancer. She recently finished chemotherapy and preventative brain radiation and is slowly getting back to the life she loves, taking on photography jobs, participating in community events and working in her lush garden.
And now, she’s got a new item on her post-cancer to-do list: finding someone in need to surprise.
“Of course I’m going to be paying it forward,” she said.