The ever brilliant David Dixon’s post last week ties in exactly with this post so go look at it.
My parents used to call the Obituary section of the newspaper “The Irish Sports Page”. Like them, I read the obits every day. I love the stories which most of the time make me smile although there are those heartbreakers in there. So much of life is encapsulated in the obituaries; life’s tragedies and triumphs, marriages, divorces, accidents, celebrations, war, friends, family, neighbors, history, community….all in the obituaries.
I spotted an obituary a week or so ago, it caught my eye because it was so long. The deceased, William Wood Wessinger, was born in 1917 so of course, it was a long obituary….there was a lot of ground to cover. Mr. Wessinger was born in his family’s home in Portland in 1917. He went to school, he was a Boy Scout, played sports, went to college. Like many American men of his generation, he enlisted in the army in 1941. He was a harbor master and was decommissioned in 1945.
After the war, Bill took a job in Eastern Oregon as a freight forwarder and then returned to Portland working for Luckenbach Steamship Company. He met his future wife, Patricia, at a homecoming party held in his honor in 1945. The two were married for 65 years and had five children and 14 grandchildren.
In 1949, he went to work for his family’s business as an assistant treasurer and went to school at night taking accounting classes and eventually earned his CPA in 1951. During the ’50s he worked closely with his brother to get the family business headed in the right direction as it had been been failing since the end of the war. The two brothers worked closely together for nearly 50 years.
Bill was civic-minded, working for numerous public and private charities and causes over the course of his lifetime. He clearly was not interested in the spotlight because the only photo I can find of him is shown above and was the one his family selected to put in the paper for his obit. He was an outdoorsy man who loved climbing mountains and skiing. He slowed down after his wife died in 2011 but continued to be close to his family and walking his dog, Cowboy, who he got as a rescue from the Oregon Humane Society.
That’s a nice story isn’t it? I am a pro at reading obituaries and I can read between the lines. Oftentimes, obits will list all these professional accomplishments and at the very end mention that so and so had a spouse and children. Yee, that’s not good. Mr. Wessinger’s obituary is not like that at all. He was clearly close to his siblings and parents, had a long and fruitful marriage, was involved in a ton of athletic activities with his wife and kids, did more than his fair share for non-profits, etc. A full life, well-lived.
Soooooo….this is what I got to thinking about….
What I didn’t mention about Mr. Wessinger is he is from a very prominent Portland family and the business was Blitz-Weinhard Brewery, which is now owned by SAB Miller. Which is neither here nor there, except for the fact that this man didn’t just sit around living off his grandfather’s money. He grew up in privilege moving to Dunthorpe when it was a new Portland neighborhood, he went to Cornell and played lacrosse.
BUT he also enlisted in the army and was a WWII vet. He worked. He went to school at night. He was married to the same woman for 65 years. He created one of Oregon’s great success stories with Henry Weinhard’s Brewery. The list is long of all the charities he supported, he helped create the first student housing at Portland State University, he was a quiet philanthropist who has left a strong legacy in the arts and outdoors in the Portland area and throughout the state.
Um, Paris Hilton…what are you up to? Do you think the latest generation (not the Greatest, the latest) is up to the task of being responsible tenders of their forebears’ legacies?
To those whom much is given, much is expected. John F. Kennedy
It seems, based upon absolutely no research of mine at all, that the latest generation of old money families is more focused on Celebrity than participating, than working, than recognizing that their privilege gives them unique opportunities to affect change, to support arts and letters, to create, to help communities and the world at large. They are partying and becoming faux-celebrities who have accomplished nothing.
I have been running the Google on wealthy American families and the word I am looking for is “celebutante”. These are the offspring of wealthy people who go on to be famous because of how much money their family has. Think Hilton and Kardashian.
One of the country’s wealthiest families is the Hearst family. The movie Citizen Kane is a fictionalized account of William Randolph Hearst, founder of the family media empire. Some of you may remember Patty Hearst, granddaughter of William, in the 70s she was kidnapped and brainwashed by the domestic terrorist group the Symbionese Liberation Army. During her time in captivity, she joined the SLA and is now a convicted bank robber. It was a really weird story. She has since married and has two adult daughters who are both “models” and “actresses”. Her daughter Gillian has been a strong supporter of condom use. Not in Africa to stop the spread of AIDS, just when you’re screwin’ around definitely use a condom.
The Johnson family of baby shampoo fame is a fairly hot mess what with one of the brothers on trial for sexually abusing his step-daughter. The family has a long list of scandalous stories but one of the more recent is the death of Casey Johnson, daughter of NY Jets owner Woody Johnson. She died at the age of 30 from drugs or diabetes or organ failure but probably she just died of too much money and being engaged to Tila Tequila.
The Bronfman girls, Clare and Sara, heiresses to the Seagrams liquor fortune are in some sort of trouble because of $150 million that has gone to a cult.
In these super-wealthy families, I’m finding many of them are on the boards of the companies or foundations. It is hard to find information on them probably because they don’t want the publicity and don’t get it unless something really awful happens.
Is it not just them?
Perhaps I am being unfair, are the upcoming generations all more spoiled than the ones that came before? I know I was required to work 40 hours/week during the summer at my dad’s office starting the summer before I entered high school. My kids have never held jobs like that. What do you think?