A Life Story That Got Me Thinkin’

The ever brilliant David Dixon’s post last week ties in exactly with this post so go look at it.

Fabulous, right?

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.

Photo courtesy Oregonlive.com
Photo of William Wood Wessinger courtesy Oregonlive.com

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?

17 thoughts on “A Life Story That Got Me Thinkin’

  1. It’s a completely different world now than it was when Mr Wessinger was young.
    Celebrity is now somehow a goal unto itself, and a sense of entitlement runs rampant.

    If your kids know how to be responsible for themselves, then all else aside, you’ve probably done alright by them.

    1. It is a different world and I don’t care that much for the new one.
      I’m hoping the 16 year old has work this summer. Both girls want to work during the school year but I have no idea when I would see them. They’re fine, but it still bothers me.

      A guy I once dated used to call me Rosie the Riveter. I was born in the wrong decade 🙂

  2. I love that you honored William Wood Wessinger even further by posting material from his obit. And I agree–the fact he was self-made when he didn’t have to be speaks volumes for his character. I also love the alliteration in his name. 😉

    I agree the Paris’s and the Kim’s out there don’t inspire much confidence. On the other hand, there are other wealthy offspring who have been born with the silver spoon in their mouths and may work for the family business but have earned their place in it by contributing. I’m thinking of the Trump kids here. As much as I’m not a fan of The Donald, his son and daughter turned out pretty well, and both seem to work hard at what they do, at least from what I’ve read.

    I always wanted to be a Disney descendant. Who am I kidding, I still do. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?!

    Nice post.

    1. Thanks Carrie. The Trump kids at least the older ones, have turned out well. I’m sure it’s easy to paint them all with the same broad brush but you so seldom hear about the offspring of these dynasties doing much. I think that’s different in new younger money Gates, Zuckerberg, etc.

      My daughter would love to be a Disney or just live there 🙂

  3. Addie

    The Kardashians became ‘celebs’ when Kim–I think–had a sex tape of her and some basketball player in a position that wasn’t the, um, usual position, that went viral. The rest of the family jumped on the Trash Train and are famous for being tarts.

    More later.

  4. Ok, so “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?”

    Best transition ever! LOL. This is such a great post, and I couldn’t agree more. Lately I’ve been noticing how this occurs on all levels, too – for instance, people with all the access to education/money etc, who end up with very little ambition. The curse to privilege, I suppose, but then again, it must also be a parental issue. Rich parents can and SHOULD always instill values of work ethic and the greater good to their children… that JFK quote is so true!

    1. Thanks doll! I’m not rich but we are comfortable and I know my daughter wants a cute VW Beetle for her first car. I think she is getting her grandfather’s old Chrysler 300. That’s real life, if I had to sit on a couch cushion in my ’75 Monte Carlo, she can drive the grandpa car for a few years.

      See?! I’m instilling character 🙂

  5. I think these kids aren’t hungry enough. And that they were raised by parents who were divorced so felt guilty about being stern with them. Plus we thought our parents were jerks and vowed to NOT do whatever thing we thought was dum and treated our kids different. BUT – this generation can invent jobs and careers that didn’t exist. They will be okay. They are just brats. I made business cards at 14 and put them all over the neighborhood for babysitting, I washed windows, I have always wanted money and made something somewhere so I could get it myself. I always wished my parents had pushed me or at least saved money for me for college, but who knows what I would have done with that. No ONE CAN PAY OFF COLLEGE NOW OR GET A JOB WITH A DEGREE. In fact, degreed people are taking any job they can get. Everyone working at McDonalds is over 40. Its all a big crap shoot. But they’ll make their world. One thing about growing up in privilege is that you don’t actually HAVE TO work. Think about it. If you had a million dollars, a million trillion, what would you do? I also read a story about these kids who are millionares who can’t have the money, their dad was a crazy drug addict and the mom an abusive drunk, they are abandoned like orphans and were raised like foster care kids. I’m going to go make a hat.

    1. I had a feeling that today you would have something to say on this 🙂
      I have a degree and it landed me a receptionist job. Kids will work, as you say if they’re hungry.

      I’d like a hat but I don’t look good in hats.


  6. And sadly I think people like Paris Hilton THINK that they ARE special and famous and powerful all because they are so wonderful, having nothing to do with the circumstance of their birth. Lots of unearned self-esteem, there. Ridiculous. Great post!

  7. unfetteredbs

    Great post Maggie.
    Kids are a bit softer today because we parent differently. We enjoy having our kids around 🙂

    Both My girls began working at 14. Not a lot but it has taught them responsibility and they earn their own $$. I’m not rich so they gots too 🙂

  8. Hey, Maggie! I finally got to make my way over here. The kids are in school and baby is sound asleep.
    Anyway, I think your commentary on today’s youth is on point. Most parents raise their children with a sense of entitlement. They basically reward their child for doing nothing. That does not fly in my house. My daughter, who’s only eight, asked me for an i-pod touch because her best friend has one. I told her, “No. Not happening.”
    So yeah, I’m old school when it comes to parenting. You have to earn things, plain and simple.

  9. Mag, I think every generation has its share of wealthy fucktoads, but thanks to the Internet and the popularity of reality TV, it’s harder to avoid hearing about them in today’s world. The drag is that kids watch these shows and many, like my 19-year-old niece, seem to harbor a perverse infatuation with these shallow party people. Last summer, when my niece was looking for her first job beyond feeding a neighbor’s cat, she turned down working at Target with kids like herself, to work at a country club. She harbored the delusion that she’d blend in with the entitled. That taste of reality was an eye opener for her about the 1%. I hope that it’s made her realize that she’s not entitled, but I’m not sure if it has. She’s an only child and very pampered — something that could bite her hard in the real working world where a bratty attitude is not an asset.

  10. Although there are heartening examples (I keep thinking Prince William going off to Chile when he was 18), there is more of a trend in general towards being obsessed with celebrity so I guess the wealthy of today reflect that. We don’t even need someone to have a skill anymore. Famous For Being Famous is a new genre of celebrity and, it seems, us mere mortals lap up this nonsense, giving them the ability to act with impunity.

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