She donated billions while he made hamburgers

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Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away by Lisa Napoli, Dutton, US $27.00, Pp 368, November 2016, ISBN 978-1101984956

Most of us have watched the likes of Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg pledging their fortunes to charity under the media limelight. Joan Kroc just did that, with no fanfare. Her billionaire fast food magnate Ray Kroc made billions while his third wife Joan Kroc promoted controversial causes with those billions. In Ray & Joan, Lisa Napoli says that Ray would be remembered for hamburgers, as it should be. But Joan wanted the name Kroc to be remembered for giving. Napoli says that two months before her death, her final wishes had been spelled out on paper, and shrouded in mystery from all but her closest advisers. She’d insisted there be no public funeral and laid out the plans for a modest memorial service – personally inviting the speakers in advance. As the days tripped by and the cancer took up greater residence in her frame, there was little else she could do but thumb through the leather bound Bible given her by the late Father Henri Nouwen, from whom she’d sought spiritual counsel. She meekly signed the documents that set forth her wishes. It was even tough, eight weeks before her demise, to wield a pen, as evidenced by her feeble scrawl of a signature on her last will and testament, in place of her once perfect cursive writing.

Napoli says that she took solace in the shimmering material representations of her wealth – her collection of jewels, chief among them one not intended to be worn: her prized translucent royal-blue Pine Cone egg, trimmed in gold, created in the year 1900 under the supervision of the great designer Faberge. The egg’s velvet interior contained and exquisite surprise: a tiny elephant made of silver, its tusks fashioned out of authentic ivory, its back bedecked with a saddlecloth trimmed with a triad shimmering diamonds. An accompanying gold key, when inserted into a hidden keyhole, animated the anima, causing it to amble side and rear its head and tail. The “McEgg,” she called the gem for which she paid more than $$3 million.

Ray & Joan is a close and intimate look at the not-so-smooth relationship between billionaire Ray Kroc and his third wife Joan. It is a mesmerizing story of a salesman who was hired to help brothers Dick and Mac McDonald franchise their own fast food burger stand and ended up creating the biggest fast food chain in the world. It is also story of one of the few female philanthropists who had a very strong persona of her own. It is as interesting as a good novel can be. Reviewed by Jonathan T. Rich