Ronald Read died in June at the age of 92.
Known for his frugal lifestyle – including his frequent foraging for firewood – no one knew that he was also passionate about picking stocks.
Over the years, the modest World War II veteran, who worked at a gas station for 25 years and as a janitor for another 17, accumulated a fortune worth $8 million.
After his death, Read bequeathed $4.8 million to the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and $1.2 million to the Brooks Memorial Library. His donations are the largest each institution has ever received.
"This is a substantial amount of money for the hospital to receive," Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Director of Development and Marketing, Gina Pattison told the Brattleboro Reformer. “We are very appreciative of what Mr. Read left. It’s pretty incredible. This is not something that happens on a regular basis.”
"This bequest is incredible. It’s transformative," Brooks Memorial Library Executive Director Jerry Carbone said. “It’s going to really provide for our future and relevance in the community and allow us to keep up with the times, and keep up with what this community needs to access quality library services.”
The library only found out last week about the money.
"It’s a great story," Carbone said. “I feel like Mr. Read was a self-made man. He did not have a formal education, but he was very smart and he realized the impact that an institution like a library has on an individual.”
Read also left the Dummerston Historical Society with an antique Edison phonograph and dozens of recording drums.
According to family and friends, Read’s lifestyle and attire never gave away his financial status.
"People were stunned that he had that much money," Drummerston resident Ruth Marx told the Brattleboro Reformer. “I bought some old fence wiring from him once because I thought he could use the money.”
Almost always dressed in a flannel shirt and baseball cap, Read drove a second-hand 2007 Toyota Yaris, often choosing to park it far away to avoid paying for the meter. His biggest indulgence: eating breakfast at a local coffee shop.
Marx said she once knit him a hat, thinking Read could use the help to get through the winter.
Only his habit of reading the Wall Street Journal hinted at his interest in investments.
"He had two lifelong hobbies: Investing and cutting wood," said Read’s attorney, Laurie Rowell. “The generous bequests to the Brooks Library and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital attest to his skills at investing. The well-stocked woodpile in his garage attests to his love of cutting wood.”
Read is survived by two stepchildren. They have not yet commented on his secret fortune.