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Intriguing people for December 10, 2009

By Jay Kernis, CNN
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, in a speech at West Point blasted his fellow corporate leaders.
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, in a speech at West Point blasted his fellow corporate leaders.
  • A new Secret Santa continues the work of his mentor by handing out $14,000 around Kansas City
  • General Electric's CEO says corporate leaders succumbed to "meanness and greed" that hurt the US economy
  • A wealthy investor says he can't make his $19 million annual gift to the ACLU

Editor's note: Every weekday, CNN focuses on a handful of people in the news. This is a chance to find out more about what they've done -- good or bad -- what they've said, or what they believe, and why we think they're intriguing.

(CNN) -- Secret Santa
Before he died in 2007, Larry Stewart of Kansas City, Missouri, spent years anonymously passing out $100 bills around holiday time. He gave away nearly $1.3 million during a 20-year campaign.

Wednesday, a new Secret Santa, mentored by Stewart, handed out $14,000 around the metro area and there are reports that he has selected 20 others to distribute their own money -- between $250,000 and $300,000 -- in cities across the country. On Wednesday, a Kansas City-area Secret Santa gave $2,000 to Herman Smithey III, a terminal cancer patient living on a monthly pension.

Secret Santa USA -- Site dedicated to Larry Stewart

Jeffrey Immelt
During a speech Wednesday at West Point military academy, General Electric's chief executive blasted his fellow corporate leaders, saying they had succumbed to "meanness and greed" that had harmed the U.S. economy. "The bottom 25 percent of the American population is poorer than they were 25 years ago. That is just wrong," he said. "Ethically, leaders do share a common responsibility to narrow the gap between the weak and the strong." Immelt earned $3.3 million in salary in 2008 and declined about $12 million in bonuses.

Financial Times: GE chief attacks executive 'greed'

David Gelbaum
The wealthy investor in clean technology came forward to say that he could no longer make his $19 million annual gift to the ACLU, which amounts to one-quarter of its annual donations, according to The New York Times. Gelbaum, who had always insisted on anonymity, had given more than $380 million during the past four years to the ACLU, the Sierra Club and the Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund of the California Community Foundation. He said that financial constraints would curtail his philanthropic giving.

New York Times: Major donor says finances forced cuts

Frank Ricci
The New Haven firefighter and fellow white firefighters are expected to receive their new badges in a ceremony Thursday. The U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned their promotions over black colleagues, ruling that New Haven officials violated the firefighters' civil rights when they threw out 2003 test results in which too few minorities did well. During Justice Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation process in July, Ricci said that "achievement is neither limited nor determined by one's race but by one's skills, dedication, commitment and character."

Hartford Courant: Ricci reflects on lawsuit

Orlando Sarmiento
He is the principal of Newcomers High School in Long Island City in Queens, New York, and his school made it to sixth place on the U.S. News & World Report's list of the nation's 100 best high schools. The school has students from 50 countries, all immigrants who have arrived in the United States in the past year. Sarmiento told the New York Daily News, "For many students, they were at JFK [airport] Wednesday, and today they are here." The magazine evaluated more than 21,700 schools.

New York Daily News: U.S. News & World Report's 'Best High Schools' survey

What makes a person intriguing?

There are people who enter the news cycle every day because their actions or decisions are new, important or different. Others are in the news because they are the ones those decisions affect. And there are a number of people who are so famous or controversial that anything they say or do becomes news.

Some of these people do what we expect of them: They run for office, pass legislation, start a business, get hired or fired, commit a crime, make an arrest, get in accidents, hit a home run, overthrow a government, fight wars, sue an opponent, put out fires, prepare for hurricanes, and cavort with people other than their spouses. They do make news, but the action is usually more important than who is involved in the story.

But every day there are a number of people who become fascinating to us -- by virtue of their character, how they reached their decision, how they behaved under pressure, or because of the remarkable circumstances surrounding the event they are involved in.

They arouse our curiosity. We hear about them, and want to know more. What they have done or said stimulates conversations across the country. At times, there is even a mystery about them. What they have done may be unique, heroic, cowardly or ghastly, but they capture our imaginations. We want to know what makes them tick, why they believe what they do, and why they did what they did. They intrigue us.