Abess, along with Geneva Lawson, a 51-year employee of the bank, watched President Obama's address to Congress Tuesday from the first lady's box. Obama applauded his generosity.
"I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him," Obama said in his speech.
"It was an amazing moment," Abess said. "I was humbled and amazed; it was really something. ... I just felt I was in the presence of a man who is going to point the way."
Abess' values, instilled at the family dinner table, have carried him, albeit reluctantly, into the national spotlight.
"I'm amazed by the attention that this has gotten," Abess confessed. "I'd prefer to live in a world where this is ordinary and didn't need to be mentioned to anybody."