Before his declining health took his life in 2014, Ronald Read could be found tooling around his hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, in a secondhand Toyota Yaris, his coat held together by safety pins.
On visits to his attorney, Read would park far away from her office to avoid having to plug change into a meter. His favorite outfit was a flannel shirt and a baseball cap.
Read’s frugality paid off, not for him but for a local hospital and library, who were the beneficiaries of the majority of his $8 million estate when he died at the age of 92. The Brattleboro Reformer reported in 2015 that Read’s family and friends were shocked to learn what the former janitor was worth.
No one had any idea he was a millionaire
“I was tremendously surprised,” Read’s stepson, Phillip Brown, said. “He was a hard worker, but I don’t think anybody had an idea that he was a multimillionaire.”
“Hard work was his passion and words he lived by each and every day,” Read’s June 2014 obituary said.
A native of Dummerston, Vermont, Read was a veteran of World War II, during which he served as a military policeman, his obituary said. After being honorably discharged in 1945, he returned home to Vermont and went to work at a service station owned by his brother.
The Reformer reported that he worked there for 25 years before retiring. Unhappy in retirement, he went back to work as a janitor at a local JCPenney. The Tech Times reported last year that Read worked until the age of 76.
According to the Reformer, friends and acquaintances often did little things for Read, trying to help a man whom they saw pinching his pennies. One friend knitted him a hat to keep him warm one winter. At a local coffee shop where he ate breakfast – his one indulgence, Read’s attorney told the Tech Times – another guest once secretly paid for Read’s meal because he didn’t appear to have the means to do so himself.
No one seemed to know that Read was quietly holding onto stocks and property valued at $8 million. Of that estate, he left $1.2 million to his town’s Brooks Memorial Library.
Read left $4.8 million to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, the Reformer reported. He spent a great deal of time at both as his health declined, Brown told the newspaper.
The only indication of his interest in the stock market over the years was his daily reading of the Wall Street Journal.
An avid outdoorsman, Read enjoyed chopping wood, his obituary said. He also collected stamps and coins.
He was buried with military honors in Meeting House Hill Cemetery in Brattleboro. Mourners were urged to contribute, in his name, to the Dummerston Historical Society.