Ronald Read’s Story
Until Ronald Read made the headlines in early February, most did not know of him. From multiple articles, we learn Ronald Read was an “unbelievably frugal” man with a generous heart. He led a modest life, working with his brother as a mechanic for 25 years. After the garage was sold, he took a part-time job as a janitor for JC Penny for 17 years. Mr. Read was born in the small town of Dummerston, Vermont, in 1921. Like many stories we hear today from parents and grandparents, he, too, had to walk to school, a distance of four miles from his home, to obtain an education. He was the only member of his family to graduate from high school. After his military service in World War II, he contently returned to his hometown where he took up his occupation as a mechanic. In 1960 Ronald married Barbara March, a mother of two children. Barbara passed away in 1970; Ronald remained a widower until his passing in June, 2014, at the age of 92.
People may not have paid much attention to him or his activities but one thing is for certain, he did something well. He was an astute student. His textbook on investing was the Wall Street Journal. His vocation went beyond his menial tasks as a mechanic and janitor; he had a knack for picking rock-solid, dividend-paying stocks which rewarded him royally over the years. He had the foresight to stay on course. He stayed invested and kept on investing. Mr. Read may have never read the book, “Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach, yet he put into practice the steps which not only made him a millionaire but a multi-millionaire.
The heart-warming part of his story is the generosity he showered upon his community, the beneficiaries of his treasure. From his accumulated wealth, Ronald Read bequeathed $4.8 million to the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and $1.2 million to the town’s Brooks Memorial Library.
After Mr. Read’s story was released to the public, many questioned how he obtained such wealth on a modest income. As of last count, 319 comments appeared under CNBC’s storyline, Here’s how a janitor amassed an $8M fortune. The quest for an answer began with an examination of his lifestyle.
Lessons Learned from Ronald Read
Surely, if Mr. Read faithfully read the Wall Street Journal, as many people attested he did, he no doubt heeded the advice from Warren Buffett, world’s most successful investor and wealthiest person. Mr. Read may have digested words of wisdom about investing from this well-known guru and teacher. One such message, “Never invest in a business you can’t understand” attests to his choice of investments in AT&T, Bank of America, CVS, Deere, GE and General Motors. Regardless, whatever investment advice Mr. Read gleaned from the Wall Street Journal’s teachers, he demonstrated their advice was rock-solid.
There’s a lesson in everyone’s story. In an interview with Chris Horgan, a strategist with Ramsey Solutions, Chris delivered a message to both investor and advisor.
· For the investor, your part is “to identify how much you want to save and how much you want to give away, then figure out how to get there with the help of an investment professional.”
· For advisors, you need to be “someone who has the heart of a teacher and not someone trying to sell stuff.”
Chris Horgan’s closing comment clinched the importance of investing. "It can be done. In America we need to start believing back in the American dream and stop buying the stuff that's on commercials." The word, dream, is key. We are so easily swayed by things we don’t want or need that we lose sight of things that we do. We simply stop dreaming because things appear unattainable. Regardless of the amount of a person’s salary, we can achieve the dream if we are determined to put effort into working and saving. We have Ronald Read as a role model who clearly confirmed that acquiring wealth is possible.
Mr. Read’s fascinating story left a number of impressions. I wasn’t sure which one made the greatest impact:
· His ability to save and invest
· His ability to be unselfish and put the needs of others before his own.
Then I decided I did not have to choose, I can accept the fact all these points made an everlasting impression.
You, too, will draw your own conclusions from Mr. Read’s story. When I think of making “an everlasting impression,” I will think of Mr. Read. Although he didn’t make his fortune from owning a multi-billion dollar corporation, he did own pieces of multiple companies by buying their stocks. He applied the slow-and-steady, invest-in-what-you-know investment strategy which led to the accumulation of wealth. In the end, his family and community benefited by his generous donations because of his choice of life and investment styles.