Frugal Resident Donates Millions to Brattleboro

By Isabelle Dietz

Ronald James Read passed away in June 2014 at the age of 92. Before his death, none of his Brattleboro neighbors knew that he was a millionaire. Read lived a very modest life. However, in his will he left $4.8 million to the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and $1.2 million to the Brooks Memorial Library.

Read was born in Dummerston, Vt. in 1921 and served in World War II.

His attorney, Laurie Rowell, told the Brattleboro Reformer that Read enjoyed choosing stocks and that over time these investments “grew substantially.” Rowell also said that Read’s two hobbies were cutting wood and investing.

“The generous bequests to the Brooks Library and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital attest to his skills at investing. The well-stocked woodpile in his garage attests to his love of cutting wood,” Rowell said.

Read lived frugally.  His stepson Philip Brown told the Brattleboro Reformer that the only hint he had that Read had such large investments was that he regularly read the Wall Street Journal.

“While Mr. Read had no advanced formal education, he educated himself by reading information on his passion, which was investing,” said Jerry Carbone, long-term Library Director of the Brooks Memorial Library. “I think he intrinsically knew the transformative power that a quality library can provide in people’s lives.”

Read’s gift of $1.2 million to the library was unrestricted. The library was notified in June that Read had left a large bequest in his will, but only recently found out how much it would receive.

“A gift of this magnitude will be invested in our endowment fund to insure a steady stream of income to insure the future sustainability and viability of library services to Brattleboro area citizens,” Carbone said.

The library in turn gives back to the Brattleboro community.

“The library plays a central role in the community for children’s literacy, intellectual curiosity, public access computing and life-long learning,” Carbone said.

In a press release published on the library’s Facebook page, Carbone explained that the Read bequest will help the library with unmet needs, and with maintaining the quality of programs and collections.

“The staff, Friends of the Library, volunteers and board are delighted at this great news,” said Jerry Goldberg, President of the Board of Trustees for the Brooks Memorial Library in the same press release.

“Mr. Read’s bequest, by far the largest since that made by George J. Brooks in 1886, is a legacy that is far reaching. It will help to guarantee the future viability and sustainability of Brattleboro’s public library, an institution much respected by Mr. Read. It is, indeed, his gift to the entire Greater Brattleboro community.” Such a large gift will make a large difference to the small Vermont community.

The $4.8 million left to the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is the largest single gift that the institution has ever received.

“Mr. Read was a regular customer of the hospital coffee shop and although very private he was dedicated to the mission and vision of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital,” said Gina Pattison, the Director of Development and Marketing at the hospital. “His generous gift will allow the hospital to continue our investment in necessary capital and infrastructure improvements.”

Read in the past worked both at a gas station and as a janitor for JC Penney, and was the first in his family to graduate high school.
“It’s really nice to see someone giving back to the town,” said Faraday Borg, a Brattleboro resident who pointed out that the last few years have been difficult for many towns in Vermont.

“For a lot of big hospitals, a couple million dollars wouldn’t mean a whole lot, but for the Brattleboro hospital it will make a huge difference. This guy is a true Vermonter,” Borg said.