Vermont man known for frugal ways donates millions

Posted at 10:13 AM, Feb 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-06 12:22:05-05
Ronald Read. CNN Photo

Ronald Read. CNN Photo

(CNN) — Before Ronald Read died last summer, he was, on several occasions, the benefactor of another person’s generosity.

One woman, worried that the same tattered baseball cap he often wore wouldn’t be enough to keep him warm in the Vermont winter, knitted him a hat, Read’s attorney Laurie Rowell told CNN.

His khaki denim jacket was held together with a safety pin and his flannel shirt was so old, someone once paid for his breakfast at Friendly’s.

“The man ahead of him had paid for him,” Rowell said, “Based on what he looked like and how he dressed.”

Perhaps that’s why the man known for his extreme frugality and scruffy appearance decided in the years before his death that he’d do a little giving of his own.

“The estate of Robert Read made its first distributions to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and the Brooks Library in the amounts of $4.8 million and $1.2 million,” Read’s attorney said in a press release.

Read frequented the coffee shop at the hospital for breakfast, Gina Pattison, with Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, told CNN affiliate WCAX.

Pattison called Read “a very unassuming man.”

“To find out that he had left this money to the hospital was a great surprise,” Pattison said.

The president of the Board of Trustees for the Brooks Memorial Library said in a release he was delighted by the news and said Read’s donation was the largest bequest since that of George J. Brooks in 1886.

Read was in the Army during World War II before working as a mechanic with his brother for many years. After the garage was sold, Read could have taken some time to relax, but “he didn’t take to retirement very well,” Rowell said.

Read eventually went to work as a part-time janitor at J.C. Penney. He finally retired in 1997.

Though his jobs never yielded large salaries, Read enjoyed investing in the stock market, always putting his money into “dividend producing stocks,” Rowell said.

He lived modestly, hating to spend money or see anything go to waste, a release from Rowell’s law firm said.

“He wouldn’t even park close to my office because he didn’t want to pay for parking,” she said.

When her client died last June and she went to retrieve the appropriate estate documents from Read’s safety deposit box, she realized just how frugal he was.

“The box was completely packed tight with stock certificates,” she said.

When the banker hit the final total, they all stood in shock: Read was worth more than $8 million.

Besides his frugality, Rowell described Read as a quintessential “Vermonter.” He was softspoken, but had a great sense of humor. He was also a very private man.

“He’d be shocked to have this much exposure,” Rowell said.

In addition to his charitable donations, Read also gave a portion of his fortune to a couple of stepchildren and friends.