15 August, 2011

Mrs. McCormick Pays Her Bills

In ten days it will be the 79th anniversary of Edith Rockefeller McCormick's death. In the days prior to August 25th, I would like to dispel some on the rumors and fallacies concerning her life.

One story that constantly makes the rounds is that Edith was destitute at the time of her death. In the weeks preceding her death, Edwin Krenn tried to dispell the rumors by saying, " It is ridiculous to say Mrs. McCormick is broke. When a person is broke he can't pay his bills. Mrs. McCormick is still paying hers, and will continue to do so." When Edith moved to the Drake Hotel in July of 1932 this only increased the speculation.

First and foremost, Edith was sick. It wouldn't and couldn't be reported at the time, but she was dying of cancer. The severity of her condition was being kept from her, but as the summer of 1932 progressed she had other issues on her mind; first and foremost the investors, small homeowners and renters connected with the Edith Rockefeller McCormick Trust.


Clockwise from the top left; Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Muriel McCormick Hubbard, Harold F. McCormick and Mathilde McCormick Oser.

Edith sold $18,000,000 worth of securities (which she had used as collateral) in order to retire $11,000,000 in note obligations connected to her real estate empire. In doing so, she protected the small property owners and tenants who were having trouble trouble in meeting their obligations. Furthermore, when they could not pay the full amount of their installments, the payment would be reduced in order to prevent forfeiture (of all that they had paid in), or an eviction due to non payment of rent.

Edith also felt it inappropriate that with so many in hardship, she should continue to live in splendor at 1000 Lake Shore Drive. It was economy all the way around, and she moved to the Drake Hotel - only after she insuring that her staff were placed and employed with others if they were not a part of her reduced household. (This applied to Villa Turicum as well, which now operated with the Dunfords as caretakers and a small maintenance crew.) To quote Krenn again, "She was willing to make sacrifices when there is so much human misery and suffering in order that no one would think she was flaunting her wealth in the face of such suffering."

Pretty stunning stuff, but I would expect no less from this extraordinary individualistic woman. Had she lived I have no doubt that her greatly diminished fortune would have recovered substantially. When it comes to the term broke I hardly think it applies, because Edith was rich in the legacy of her giving.

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