Columns » Hightower

Meet a genuine philanthropist




When you get fed up with all the greed and narcissism that seems to rule our country, a good way to restore your faith in humankind is to reflect on the generosity of Ron Read, The Philanthropist of Dummerston, Vermont.

Mr. Read was not a splashy, self-celebrating, David Koch-Michael Dell-Richard DeVos type — whose "altruism" is dependent on how prominently their names are displayed on the facilities they endow. In fact, no one in Dummerston had a clue that Ronald James Read was a man of wealth, much less a benefactor, until he died at age 92.

Known around town as Ron, he was a quiet, unassuming, hard-working and well-liked fellow who spent 25 years as a gas station employee, then 17 more as a janitor at the local JCPenney store. He drove a second-hand Yaris, gathered and cut downed limbs for firewood, used safety pins to hold his well-worn coat together, and hated seeing anything go to waste.

Some knew that Mr. Read enjoyed collecting stamps, and that he often checked out books from the local library. It was only after his death, however, that the town learned about another little hobby he enjoyed: picking stocks and making small investments.

Turns out, he was very, very good at it — which is how he was able to become a philanthropist.

This February, local folks were astonished and delighted to learn that their modest neighbor had bequeathed $1.2 million to their library, the largest gift in its 129 years, doubling its endowment. He also gave $4.8 million to the area's hospital, the largest bequest it has ever received.

He didn't even wait around for a public thank-you, much less demand that he get tax write-offs and have his name engraved on the library façade. Mr. Ron Read is an exemplar philanthropist — a genuine altruist who invested in the future of the common good.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit

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