on wealth
Newman’s Under 14 Years Baseball Team
Newman’s Under 14 Years Baseball Team

I am looking for new friends to replace those who have fallen off the perch already and to increase my personal wealth. The new friends will need to share my values of honest hard work, democracy, freedom of speech, equality, love of the great outdoors, baseball, football and a passion for fine red wine.

For a long time I thought great wealth was the secret to friendship because the few millionaires I met had a lot of friends. Someone, probably an investment adviser, suggested if I wanted to increase my wealth I should follow the money trail. He meant that I should identify a successful person, like Warren Buffet, and follow his investment strategy. Another said: “Do the math, save to invest wisely, avoid debt that doesn’t earn, make your money work for you and be patient.” A third suggested: “Marry well.”

Unfortunately, all of this advice came too late after I was committed to a life of hard work. But I was satisfied that I could retain my values, my family and good friends while quietly building up the assets to maintain a certain standard of living in retirement. My good friends measured my progress by the time it took to move from drinking wine from a one gallon flagon to a bottle with a genuine cork. That was not the usual measure of wealth followed by economists and statisticians but it was understood by my friends and endorsed by an oncologist who suggested I start drinking better quality red wine.

But still the intrigue of how to become a millionaire remained so I hired a highly qualified investment adviser who suggested I diversify my portfolio to focus on Europe, Japan, China and the USA, the engines of global economic growth. Not just in blue chip equities but also in property trusts that invested in quality properties with blue chip tenants like government departments, shopping malls and major companies. The investments were to be in unhedged foreign currency to maximize the profit, and recommended by highly respected analysts.

I should have hired a wine expert and bought more fine red wine. If I had, things like the global financial crisis (GFC) and excessive company and government debt would have been observed from a happier distance.

While enjoying a fine red wine one evening and trying to forget the GFC my mind drifted back to the 1956 movie “High Society” and the song “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” written by Cole Porter. I recalled that Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm did not want to have “flunkies everywhere,” a “country estate,” “supersonic plane,” “gigantic yacht,” or a “fancy foreign car.” That was good enough for me too.

Recently I was reminded by a life-time friend that we were given some good advice on how to become a millionaire by his father when we were about 12 years old and had followed that advice for many years.

When we were boys we played lots of fantasy games like: “I betcha I can stand on one leg longer than you.” Or “My father is bigger than yours so if you don’t stop my father will come round to your place and beat up your father.” How we thought that would work I don’t remember. On another day we were arguing over whose father had the most money. One said: “My father is a doctor so he is richer than yours.” We didn’t dispute that because we were at his very large house playing with his train set. Another said: “Well, our house may not be as big as yours but my father has a more important job than that and he gets lots of money.”

They turned to me and asked how much money my father had, I didn’t answer. They all knew he worked on the railroad tracks and we lived in a tiny house for railroad employees. I clearly had lost the game. Then it was my best friend’s turn to be questioned about his father’s wealth. His father was the licensee of a local hotel called the “Terminus” because that was where a lot of other fathers ended up after they finished work each day. The hotel had lots of rooms, a large kitchen, a bar for male drinkers and a separate bar for women. In those days women were not permitted to drink in the all-male bar. The hotel and the licensee/manager, Alfred (George) Newman, was so popular that the hotel was better known as “Newman’s.” Surely George was a very wealthy man we thought but didn’t know how much money he had so decided to go ask him.

Four inquisitive young boys appeared at “Newman’s” Hotel late in the afternoon to settle the argument. We walked into the main bar, full of men, in search of George and were quickly ushered out with a stern warning that we were too young to be there. George took us to the quiet ladies bar, sat us down and gave us a glass of non-alcoholic soda.

“Now” he said “what are you boys doing here, you know I could get into trouble with the Police if they saw you in the bar?” His son Peter said: “Dad we were having an argument about whose father had the most money and we didn’t know how much you had so came here to ask. Alan’s father is a doctor and they live in a big house so he says his father has more money than you. But Rex said his father has more money. So how much do you have?”

George smiled and said: “Son, I am a millionaire!” Stunned we looked at each other as Peter jumped with joy hollering: “Yippee, I won.” His father grabbed hold of him and said quietly: “Son, I have a million friends and that is worth more than money. You don’t measure wealth or importance in money terms.” “What do you mean?” we asked. George replied: “Well boys, let me tell you how I became a millionaire. Thousands of people come into my hotel every month, most of them come after work every day. We talk about our families, work, our problems and anything else that comes into our heads. They are my good friends and I have over a million of them. They have made me a millionaire, so never forget it is your friends and their lifetime friendship that make you wealthy.” We left the hotel knowing who had won the game.

George was an interesting man and I took his advice seriously. He had many interests but his passion was for sport. George was a major sponsor of several sports in the area, including the local baseball competition. He organized a competition for boys under 14 years old and sponsored his own team, simply called “Newmans.” I was 12 years old and played outfield or third base for the team because I had a strong and accurate arm, developed by throwing rocks at the neighbor’s cat. We won the baseball competition that year and I still have the team photograph personally signed by George.

In searching, unsuccessfully, for a photograph of “Newman’s” Hotel I discovered a story that the local police objected to renewal of George’s liquor license in 1946 because he had been previously convicted of selling liquor above the fixed price during World War II. George reportedly had sold two bottles of beer for 50 cents each to an undercover policeman when the fixed price was 48 cents. George pleaded guilty for rounding up the price by 2 cents and paid the fine of $20 plus $6 court costs. His liquor license was renewed and the story added some new friends to his list.

Now I need to follow George’s advice and get on with making some new friends. I have fallen well short of a million.


Image: Photo by the author, © Ken Peacock.
Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock, a former senior Australian executive of a mining company, first visited China in 1972 at the end of the Cultural Revolution and before diplomatic recognition by the Australian and US Governments. This was the first of many visits to China during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1978, he traveled throughout China with a trade delegation and revisited Shanghai where he stayed at the Shanghai Mansions Hotel and discovered the “Last Bottle of Gin in China”.