The Ragpicker's Son

The life and times of blue-collar millionaire.

          "I get 2,000 reminders every day how bad off people are," he says. "Nobody really knows except me. I know. Other people know it but they won't admit it. There is a lot of poverty in this country. And the difference is so great between those that have and those that don't have. It is really a shame. I am ashamed of the human race."

          His shame extends even to his family. It is a point of some suffering for Ross that his philanthropy has driven a divide between him and his children, who are both rich men themselves. "My children and my wife," he says, "they don't believe in my philanthropy. My wife does, and she helps me once in a while. But my two sons don't believe in it. They believe that people should not get the kind of help I give them. I don't think they realize, I'm not giving them money, I'm giving them hope along with a few dollars. I'm giving them some incentive that they can't get elsewhere. But my sons don't believe in my system. They will not carry on this calling when I die.

          "My two boys still don't believe what I tell them, what happened in the Depression years. Bread a nickel a loaf and you couldn't afford it. They still don't believe it. My grandchildren, I'm sure they wouldn't believe it either. It was demeaning. They called us junk dealers. They called us kikes. They called us sheenies--I didn't like that name. They called us all kinds of names.

          "It was rough. The taunts and jeers and teasing that we had when I was a kid, my parents taught me to let it roll off our backs--it won't last forever." The Blue Collar Millionaire leans back in his chair. There's a pile of thank-you letters on the desk before him. His telephone rings every minute or two. Against his skin he feels expensive cloth and leather. With a flip of his signet ring, he waves the junk dealer away. "Listen," he says with a flourish, "we survived."

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