Ronald Read was a private man. Aside from his friendliness and his quiet hobby of woodcutting, very few people knew details of his life. Neighbors in his rural hometown of Dummerston, Vermont would make gestures like knit him hats and purchase fencing from him, assuming he was in need of financial support.
Ronald Read (Image: Estate of Ronald Read)
When he passed away in June of 2014 at the age of 92, his will revealed that Read in fact had taken up investing in his twilight years. The retired janitor was so skilled at it, he had accrued stock holdings and properties valued at nearly $8 million. Of that, Read’s will left $1.2 million to Brooks Memorial Library, double the library’s annual endowment and the largest amount ever since its founding in 1886.
“This bequest is incredible. It’s transformative,” Brooks Memorial Library Executive Director Jerry Carbone told the local Battleboro Reformer. “It’s going to really provide for our future and relevance in the community and allow us to keep up with the times, and keep up with what this community needs to access quality library services.”
Read was far from a flamboyantly frequent face at the library – like most everyone else, he visited as he pleased through the years and checked out books he enjoyed. To give back the money he earned investing was a simple philanthropic gesture to his lifelong community, and to the resources he knew needed funds. Another large sum of money went to a local hospital, which also broke its largest-donation record.
“It’s a great story,” Carbone said. “I feel like Mr. Read was a self-made man. He did not have a formal education, but he was very smart and he realized the impact that an institution like a library has on an individual.”
As a result of this unprecedented gift, the library – which was in the midst of massive budget cuts – was able to restore long-delayed projects, such as extending service hours, and undergo a long-needed renovation. Read’s posthumous generosity is a beautiful act that, as lovers of libraries, we all hope are lucky enough to give ourselves one day.
Featured image courtesy of Google Maps.