On September 13, 2013, a retired attorney named Jack MacDonald died in a Seattle area retirement home. He was 98. Normally, the death of a man who was just two years shy of being 100, wouldn’t exactly be newsworthy. But as it turns out, Jack MacDonald was no ordinary man.
If you met Jack while he was alive, you probably would have been struck by his frugality and apparent lack of means. You might have even been tempted to offer to buy him a warm meal or some new clothes.
If you sat next to Jack on a public bus, you would been forgiven for assuming he was a solitary, lonely old man living out his final years just barely above the poverty line.
Jack only rode public transportation, using a discount fare card for people above a certain age.
He wore ragged used clothes. His sweaters were filled with holes. He was a passionate coupon clipper, always on the hunt for a bargain.
That wasn’t the full story. As it turned out, that rag-wearing bus passenger was secretly sitting on an absolutely insane personal fortune. The full extent of that fortune only became known in the weeks following Jack’s death when three Seattle charities received the surprise of a lifetime…
Who Was Jack MacDonald?
Jack Rupert MacDonald was born May 5, 1915 in Prince Rupert, British Colombia. When he was three years old, his family moved to Seattle. Jack attended Broadway High School, then the University of Washington followed by the UW Law School.
After spending three years serving in the Army in the South Pacific, Jack returned to Seattle where he worked as an attorney for more than 30 years. In 1971, Jack met and married Mary Katherine Moore, a widow who had two adult children. In his 50s at the time of the marriage, Mary Katherine helped open Jack’s eyes to the wonders of the world. When they weren’t traveling to places like Africa, Australia and Europe, the couple made their home within the Seattle suburb of Magnolia, Washington.
In 1997, Jack and Mary moved into a retirement community called The Horizon House. Mary died two years later, leaving Jack a widow for the next 16 years until his own passing in 2013.
In addition to his raggedy clothes and coupon clippings, if you visited Jack at The Horizon House, you might have been struck by the numerous copies of Forbes Magazine and The Wall Street Journal that were neatly stacked in every corner of his room. Clearly, the stock market was a bit of a hobby for the former attorney. In fact, Jack walked to his stock broker’s office once a day to check on his accounts.
According to his own stepdaughter, Jack was “amazing” at picking stocks:
“He didn’t trust a lot of other people to do his research. He directed what he wanted bought, and he really knew what he wanted.“
But until this week, only a very small circle of family and advisors had any concept of just how amazing Jack was at picking stocks.
It should be noted that Jack didn’t exactly start from scratch. In 1933, his parents founded the MacDonald Meat Company which eventually grew into a very profitable supplier of meat and seafood to Washington area restaurants and hotels. Today the company exports their products all of the world to consumers in various Asian countries and even as far as Russia. After inheriting the business, Jack began investing his profits into the stock market.
Despite his frugal appearance, over the years Jack did provide a few clues about his wealth. At some point he started sending anonymous donations to a sleepy Canadian town called Elora which is where his paternal grandfather emigrated to from Scotland. As the donations to Elora totaled more than $150,000, Jack was eventually revealed as the source. Elora used the money to build an ice rink and refurbish the town hall. Elora renamed their town square after Jack.
While he was alive Jack also donated $536,000 to a hospital called the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. He would periodically ride the bus to the hospital to visit with the children and hear their stories. And while giving away roughly $683,000 to charity is extremely commendable, it still pales in comparison to what you’re about to find out.
Secret Massive Fortune
As we mentioned at the start, Jack MacDonald died on September 13, 2013. Within a few weeks of his death, three Seattle charities were informed that they were the beneficiaries of his estate. In his will, Jack left his estate as follows:
- 40% to the Seattle Children’s Research Institute
- 30% to his alma mater The University of Washington Law School
- 30% to the Salvation Army Northwest Division
So exactly how much money would these three charities be splitting?
Jack MacDonald, the frugal man who clipped coupons, wore ragged clothes and rode public transportation, left behind an estate valued at…
Let that sink in. All that time Jack MacDonald was riding the bus, he was secretly sitting on an absolute fortune. Judging by his appearance when Jack walked to his stock broker’s office every day, you would have assumed he was checking on an IRA or 401k account containing a few hundred thousand dollars, at most. But nope, this former attorney was managing a roughly $200 million stock portfolio all from a modest room within a suburban retirement home!
The University of Washington Law School and the Salvation Army each received $56.3 million. Jack’s donation to UW still stands as the largest gift in the history of both the law school AND the University of Washington at large.
The Seattle Children’s hospital received $75 million. They named a building in his honor: The Jack R. MacDonald Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
It Gets Better!
Assuming they haven’t sold the stocks that made up the portfolio, at the time of his gift each charity was projected to earn between $3 and $4 million per year in interest and dividends alone off the trusts.
All from a man who lived in a modest retirement home. A man who wore ragged clothes, rode the bus and clipped coupons every day of his life. This is a man who you would have attempted to take out for a hot meal and a new set of sweaters, not a financial tycoon with a portfolio that would have impressed fellow Seattle philanthropist Bill Gates himself. But as we have learned, appearances can be deceiving. Jack MacDonald was an amazing man whose life and legacy will hopefully inspire many others to follow his path!