I just finished reading the book “Empty Mansions” by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Junior. The title says it is about “The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune”.
Any book with the words fortune and spending just calls to my financial education mind. It would seem that a book about wealth would be all about what we call “living the good life”. I learned that the title refers to the empty properties Huguette continued to maintain even though she didn’t live in them. Interesting.
This book is about a woman and her story which revolves around extreme wealth, business, family owned businesses, decision-making, relationships, trust and distrust, and how money can be both a blessing and a curse.
Personally, it took me a long time to learn to deal with money in an unemotional manner. The main character, struggled with that for a really long time as she was born in 1906 and died in 2011. She dealt with a lot of emotions and they often guided her decisions. For Huguette, these decisions usually involved large sums of money. The world changed radically during her lifetime and she also outlived her close relatives. Some of the change was more than Huguette wished to deal with, so she created a lifestyle which was strange and unconventional to most ordinary (and even wealthy) people. Her needs for security and safety as a wealthy person played a big part in how she spent money. As an elderly woman it appeared that those who were caring for her may have taken advantage of her financially, even though the medical professionals found her competent.
It is hard to imagine the majestic homes her father created with his wealth and the mind-set of Huguette who was born into such a lifestyle and never knew anything different. Still, I was struck by the similarity between the decisions she had to make about businesses, advisors, and income management, and those made by the rest of as we manage our personal finances or make lifestyle and financial decisions about the senior citizens our lives.
Was Huguette happy living what most would see as “the good life”? It is hard to tell. That is the mystery which remains in her interesting life story.
Until next time.
Debra J. Hadsall