20 April 2014


In the same week of December 1924, in which he formally launched the Duke Endowment with an initial gift of $40,000,000, Buck Duke propped his game foot on a pillow and dictated a last will and testament to his legal fidus Achates, the little Virginian, W.R. Perkins. This document, conceived and executed by a layman, has since won admiring, if a bit envious, comment from leading corporation lawyers and other authorities in testamentary dispositions. For, by the simple expedient of linking the inheritance of his daughter and chief legatee to his charity trust, Duke sought, so far a humanly possible, to insure for his only child a continually increasing fortune. By willing large and similar blocks of tobacco and utility securities both to the Endowment and to his daughter (and interrelating these bequests), Duke felt that North Carolina would hesitate in imposing future burdensome taxes upon his tobacco and power holdings, since, in effect, the State would be taxing its own educational and charitable institutions. Thus far, the stratagem has worked brilliantly. The thirteen-year-old Dors Duke of 1925 is now, at thirty and as the wife of James H.R. Cromwell, mistress of wealth estimated at $250,000,000.

Having insured his daughter's future, Duke prepared to ring down the curtain on his own turbulent career. Lying on his rare Louis XV bed in the white marble mansion on Fifth Avenue in the heavy, muggy days of September, 1925, realization came to the farmer's son that he was not to recover from the debilitating and mystifying disease the doctors called pernicious anemia. There was one unfinished piece of business on his mind. On the last day of September, he summoned his executive handyman, George Allen.
"Allen," he said, "I don't think I've given Duke University enough money to complete the building program I have in mind. I figure they'll need about $7,000,000 more. Get Perkins up here tomorrow."
Hence, under date of October 1st, Duke executed a codicil to his will, providing an additional $7,000,000 to the institution which his enemies said was the ace card in his campaign to become a saint.
This was Duke's last exercise of authority over his own destiny. Hypostatic pneumonia had set in and, though there was a momentary flutter of parent improvement, the patient gradually slipped into a coma and died at dusk on Saturday, October 10, 1925.

On Monday a private funeral service, without sermon or eulogy, was held in the Fifth Avenue mansion for the family, friends and business associates, to the number of several score. Ben Duke, ill at his home near by, was unable to attend. The Reverend Dr. Raymond L. Forman, pastor of St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church in New York, read Whittier's poem "Eternal Goodness," the Twenty-Third Psalm and the fourteenth chapter of St. John, and, in his prayer, spoke of Duke as one who "out of a wise mind and compassionate heart invested his goods to serve generations to come."
Outside a great crowd had gathered, attracted by the richly dressed mourners, the long line of waiting limousines and other panoply of wealth. It was then, while the police held in check the curious and the morbid, the Lillian McCredy Duke mounted a knoll in Central Park, directly across the way, impelled by memories and uncontrollable emotion to witness as much as she could of a ceremony in which she was permitted no part. Through tear-dimmed eyes, the divorced wife saw the huge bronze casket lifted laboriously into a hearse and the start of an impressive procession that would escort the body to a special train bound for Durham. Then, scarcely able to walk, she made her way to the meagre chamber in a west Side rooming house which she now called home.

The seven-car funeral special arrived in Durham early on the morning of Tuesday, October 13th. The citizens of the town, to most of whom for many years Duke had been merely a financial abstraction, and the 1,400 students of Duke University, until recently Trinity College, had been prepared for a great event. Mourning bands and wreaths of flowers had been distributed among the students. The Durham public schools were closed, and stores and factories requested to suspend business during the hour of the funeral. Under a blanket of orchids, ferns and yellow roses. the benefactor lay in state in East Duke Building for an hour and a half while students and faculty filed past. A dozen of the huskiest athletes were assigned to carry the 1,500-pound casket into the Duke Memorial Church, where brief services were solemnized at eleven o'clock. All seat in this small edifice, a stone's throw from Wash Duke's first "city" factory, were reserved for the family, members of the Duke endowment, trustees of Duke University and important faculty members. There was no room for the general public.
As the family entered the church, a selected choir of Durham's best voices sang "How firm a Foundation." Dean Edmund D. Soper of the School of Religious Education read the Methodist funeral service. the congregation sang "Abide with Me." As the casket was borne out, the choir rendered "Nearer, My God, to Thee." The procession passed through a double line of Duke students to Maplewood Cemetery, where the body was placed in a mausoleum which contained the remains of Washington Duke, his son Brodie, Elizabeth Roney (Aunt Betty) and several other members of the family. At signal, the Duke students banked their floral offerings about the tomb while the choir sang "Lead Kindly Light."
Tributes and appraisals of Duke poured in from a thousand sources.
"With Duke's passing," said the old and distinguished trade journal, The Tobacco Leaf, "there goes out of this world the most remarkable figure that the tobacco trade has ever produced. Nor is that phrase entirely apt, because it was James B. Duke who developed the tobacco business, and not the tobacco business that developed Duke. Without a doubt it was James B. Duke who started the cigarette industry on its upward climb in this country, for he was the first in the tobacco business to vision the possibilities of big and costly advertising. We believe that occasionally advertising actually develops national characteristics; and as Wrigley may be said to have made the United States a nation of gum chewers, so James B. Duke pioneered in the process of making America a nation of cigarette smokers. Not only is his influence on the mechanics and merchandising of tobacco products, but his influence on the personal habits of the people will be manifest for years and perhaps through many forthcoming generations."

The New York World commented editorially:

"The late James B. Duke's fortune was built by business enterprise upon a scale unique in the South. The family of which he was the ablest member began establishing the Piedmont tobacco industry in the same post-war years in which young Carnegie in Pittsburgh was revolutionizing the steel business, in which Rockefeller in Cleveland was organizing Standard Oil, in which Frick was making Connellsville the nation's coke centre, in which Agassiz and Higginson were building the Michigan Copper Industry. Duke consciously took Rockefeller for his model. He saw no reason why the tobacco business could not be organized with the same boldness as the oil business.
The qualities of shrewdness and energy that stamped these Northern men marked Duke as well. He was quick to seize opportunity in such shapes as the pasteboard cigarette box and the cigarette-rolling machine; he saw the value of nationwide advertising, and he pushed his consolidation schemes until the Government had to break up the trust he headed. More than any other man he made America a nation that smokes cigarettes by the hundred million. Having given the South a tobacco industry it had never dreamed of, he turned to other fields of Southern development.
Indeed, Duke will be longest remembered  as one of the builders of the new South and especially of the new North Carolina. It would be hard to name a rich American who has done so much to re-crete his native State. He gave $40,000,000 to a university he hoped would yet rival Harvard and Yale. He led development of its water-power and helped make it second only to Massachusetts in the number of its cotton spindles. North Carolina, recently one of the poorest and most backward of States, is now one of the busiest and most progressive. Duke may yet stand as the first representative figure in a great Southern industrial era."
While the name and fame of Duke were echoing throughout the land, a tragedy of peculiar poignancy occurred in his first wife's shabby studio at 125 West 88th Street, New York. Following her return from witnessing the passage of her former husband's funeral cort├Ęge, Mrs. Lillian Duke suffered excruciating headaches, culminating in a cerebral hemorrhage. Hours later fellow lodgers discovered her unconscious and summoned her neighbourhood physicians, who said her condition was hopeless. They said, too, that the stricken woman was evidently suffering from malnutrition. The only food in the room was a single egg, though a pet Mexican hairless dog seemed well nourished.

—John K. Winkler Tobacco Tycoon: The Story of James Buchanan Duke (1942)

No comments: