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Perhaps the only clue that Ronald Read, a Vermont gas station attendant and janitor who died last year at age 92, had been quietly amassing an $8 million fortune was his habit of reading the Wall Street Journal, his friends and family say.
It was not until last week that the residents of Brattleboro would discover Read's little secret. That's when the local library and hospital received the bulk of his estate, built up over the years with savvy stock picks. "Investing and cutting wood, he was good at both of them," his lawyer Laurie Rowell said on Wednesday, noting that he read the Journal every day.
Most of those who knew Read, described as a frugal and extremely private person, were aware that he could handle an axe. But next to no one knew how well he was handling his financial portfolio.
Read, the first person in his family to graduate from high school, dressed in worn flannel shirts and spent his free time scavenging for fallen branches for his home wood stove. He drove a second-hand Toyota Yaris.
"You'd never know the man was a millionaire," Rowell said. "The last time he came here, he parked far away in a spot where there were no meters so he could save the coins."
Read graduated from Brattleboro High School in 1940 and during World War II served in North Africa, Italy and the Pacific theater. Returning home, he worked at Haviland's service station and then as a janitor at a JCPenney store, marrying a woman with two children.
Before his death on June 2, 2014, Read's only indulgence was eating breakfast at the local coffee shop, where he once tried to pay his bill only to find that someone had already covered it under the assumption he did not have the means, Rowell said.
Last week, Brooks Memorial Library and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital each received their largest bequests ever. Read left $1.2 million to the library, founded in 1886, and $4.8 million to the hospital, founded in 1904.
"It was a thunderbolt from the sky," said the library's executive director, Jerry Carbone. While a surprise, he said the gift made sense once he learned more about the quiet, shy library patron appropriately named Read.
"Being a self-made man with his investments, he recognized the transformative nature of a library, what it can do for people," Carbone said.
Read's stepchildren survive him but were not immediately available for comment.