The dude cleaned up all right — in the flipping stock market. As well as the J.C. Penney where he worked in his post-retirement capacity. You see, he’d already spent the bulk of his career as an attendant at his brother’s gas station. Neither one, you’ll agree, is a cushy, well-paid position.
Yet the guy managed to accumulate a stack of stock certificates five inches thick by the time he died last June at the age of 92. Five inches. That’s not a stack; it’s a heap. Of solid, blue-chip companies. AT&T, CVS, John Deere, J.P. Morgan Chase, GE, and General Motors. Oh, he had some dogs, too — Lehman Brothers, for instance, which collapsed during the financial crisis of 2008.
What was his secret? Well, he avoided tech stocks, for one thing, and concentrated on the ones paying dividends, which he then plowed back into his investment. Plus, he was unusually patient, hanging on to his stocks for decades. And he lived a frugal life, frugal as in spartan. Safety pins often held his coat together, he’d park a fair distance from destinations to avoid parking meters, and he’d scout around for fallen tree branches to use as firewood.
A gaudy, vulgar Donald Trump-lifestyle it wasn’t. Although Mr. Read did allow for the occasional indulgence, such as subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s. Even so, he made good use of his local library, an institution to which he bequeathed a cool $1.2 million. A hefty $4.8 mil went to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
To make that much money, experts calculated you’d need to invest roughly $300 a month at 8% interest for 65 long years. One expert sniffed, it’s great that happened over the last 40 years, but chances are slim it will happen over the next 40. Experts, pffft, what do they know? I couldn’t do that over the next 400 years at 80% interest.
You have to admire a guy who loved making money, but wasn’t wild about spending it or flashing it. Usually it’s the other way around. We relish the stuff money can buy, the trappings — like power, influence, beer. Not him. He just gave it away and didn’t wait around for thanks.
So, here’s to Ronald Read, a fellow who made the world richer just by having been here. My contribution, it should be noted, will be resisting the urge to make a pun out of filthy rich and janitor.
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