Secret Vermont multimillionaire had two hobbies: collecting firewood and stocks

Ronald Read left $4.8 million to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and $1.2 million to the Brooks Memorial Library. Until he died, not even his stepson knew that Read had amassed an $8 million fortune in stocks. 

A Vermont man known for frugally foraging for firewood has bequeathed millions of dollars to his local library and hospital.

Ronald Read left $4.8 million to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and $1.2 million to the Brooks Memorial Library upon his death in June at the age of 92. The Brattleboro Reformer reports they're the largest gifts either has received.

Read served in World War II before returning home in 1945. He was a private, modest man who worked at a service station for nearly 25 years, retired and then decided to go to work at JC Penney until 1997. 

He drove a 2007 Toyota Yaris and residents of Brattleboro assumed that he was poor. One woman reportedly knitted him a hat and gave it to him to keep him warm. 

But lawyer Laurie Rowell says Read had two hobbies: cutting firewood and picking stocks. She says over time, his investments "grew substantially."

Read's stepson, Phillip Brown, told the Brattleboro Reformer that he had no idea that his frugal stepdad was a multimillionaire - other than his daily reading of the Wall Street Journal. 

"I was tremendously surprised," Brown said upon finding out of his stepfather's hidden wealth. "He was a hard worker, but I don't think anybody had an idea that he was a multi-millionaire."

Brown said Read was cutting his own firewood well into his 90s, and the two would often drive around looking for downed wood Read could throw in the truck and take home for his wood stove.

"He lived frugally," Brown said. "Some of us knew he had some investments, but obviously he had a whole lot more that we didn't know about."

“The staff, Friends of the Library, volunteers and board are delighted at this great news,” said Jerry Goldberg, president of the board of trustees of Brooks Memorial Library, in a press release.  It is the largest gift the library has received since 1886.

“It will help to guarantee the future viability and sustainability of Brattleboro’s public library, an institution much respected by Mr. Read.”

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