To his neighbors in Brattleboro, Vt., Ronald Read was a man of modest means known for extreme frugality.
So when the former gas station employee and janitor died at 92, residents of the town of 12,000 in the Green Mountain state's southeast corner were shocked to learn he'd left $6 million to the local hospital and library.
Read, who sometimes held his coat together with safety pins and often foraged for firewood, had a knack for picking stocks. His investments “grew substantially” over the years, his lawyer, Laurie Rowell, told the Associated Press.
The secret millionaire, who was known for his flannel shirts and baseball cap, gave no hint of the size of his fortune.
“He was unbelievably frugal,” Rowell said. When Read visited her office, “sometimes he parked far away so he wouldn't have to pay the meter.”
The bequests of $4.8 million to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and $1.2 million to Brooks Memorial Library are the largest each institution has ever received.
“It's pretty incredible. This is not something that happens on a regular basis,” said the 47-bed hospital's development director, Gina Pattison. The hospital's board hasn't yet decided how they'll use the windfall, she said.
Read was born in Dummerston, Vt., in 1921. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school, walking and hitchhiking about 4 miles each way to school in Brattleboro. After serving in the military during World War II, he returned to Brattleboro and worked at a service station for 25 years and then for 17 years as a janitor at the local J.C. Penney.
Stepson Phillip Brown, of Somersworth, N.H., told the Brattleboro Reformer he visited Read every few months, more often as Read's health declined. The only indication Brown had of Read's investments was his regular reading of the Wall Street Journal. “I was tremendously surprised,” Brown said of Read's hidden wealth. “He was a hard worker, but I don't think anybody had an idea that he was a multimillionaire.”