I thought I would start my next 100 posts with a look back on the experience that started me on this journey. Everyone needs that spark, that catalyst, that “aha” moment. This was mine …
This story begins for me several years ago when I was asked to serve on my church’s finance committee. Even though I wasn’t much of a joiner, I found the idea of learning how the financial life of the church worked very intriguing.
As I arrived for my first committee meeting pen and paper in hand, I was shocked to learn that my first act as a committee member would be a very momentous one. We were to decide the best use for the “estate” left to the church by a deceased parishioner, Mrs. Williams (not her real name).
It seemed that her estate had been held up in legal proceedings over the past couple of years and was now ready to be released to the beneficiaries; our church being one of them. I thought it was quite nice that this saintly old lady had decided to gift the church with what was left of the blood, sweat and tears of her meager life. Boy was I ever wrong!
The committee was quickly informed that this would be a very important decision due to the size of the estate. It was felt amongst the pastoral staff that the money should be used to pay off the outstanding loan on the current church facility. I was shocked. Kindly old Mrs. Williams, the little lady who had always sat in the fourth pew from the back of the church each and every Sunday had the wherewithal to pay off a seven figure construction loan? Unbelievable!
But that was only part of the story. The church was actually one of several institutions that would benefit from Mrs. Williams’ multi-million dollar estate. In reality, Mrs. Williams was both a very wealthy and very generous woman!
I left the meeting that day shaking my head. How could Gladys Williams and her late husband have accumulated all of that wealth? They certainly weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths. Mr. Williams had been a postman during his working life and had also sold vacuum cleaners on the side. Mrs. Williams had been a homemaker until her children were grown and had then taken a job at the local library.
I had never had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Williams but Mrs. Williams was, well, rather ordinary. While always neat and tidy in appearance, she mostly wore the typical polyester “church lady” suits that could be purchased at any local discount store. Her car had been a mid-priced, American-made model of a completely ordinary nature.
There was no mansion for the multi-million dollar Williams’ either. They lived in a non-descript, but well maintained bungalow style home. There wasn’t even a garage to protect their car from the harsh mid-western winters. Nothing in their outward appearance would give any hint of the wealth that lay at their disposal.
I didn’t dwell on the matter for too long preferring to characterize the Williams’ as “outliers” in what we like to call the American experience. It just wasn’t natural to have all of that wealth yet not spend even a fraction of it on yourself, was it?
It wasn’t long before I discovered that the Williams’ were not alone in their pursuit of wealth accumulation. They were part of a group of people who kept a low profile while at the same time accumulating vast amounts of wealth; they were the Surprise Millionaires.