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Book Explores Life Of Joan Kroc, The San Diego Philanthropist Who Gave McDonald’s Fortune Away

The cover of "Ray & Joan" by Lisa Napoli.
Penguin Random House
The cover of "Ray & Joan" by Lisa Napoli.

Book Explores Life Of Joan Kroc, The San Diego Philanthropist Who Gave McDonald’s Fortune Away
Book Explores Life Of Joan Kroc, The San Diego Philanthropist Who Gave McDonald’s Fortune Away GUEST: Lisa Napoli, author, "Ray & Joan"

For a lot of people that means McDonald's. Whether you love it or hate it McDonald's and the fast food craze is a triumph of American business and entrepreneurship that is not the only legacy of McDonald's for many people especially in San Diego. The other legacy is a charity and donations. How business success and those charitable gifts combined in the story of Ray and Joan Kroc. The book is called Ray & Joan. The man who made the McDonald's fortune and the woman who gave it all the way. Lisa, welcome to the program. How did you decide to write a book on them? It wasn't because I'm a big McDonald's fanned it was because here in Los Angeles were never there was a sculpture that was in disrepair and I went to cover it for a local public radio affiliate here and found out that it had been anonymously funded by Joan Kroc and I knew she lived her life in San Diego and it made no sense that a sculpture and an LA and I wanted to know more so I looked for a biography and there wasn't one so I ended up writing one. I think most people know that Ray did not start McDonald's but how did he make it famous quick There were two brothers in the desert of San Bernardino and they had a hamburger stand in the 40s that many people had hamburger stands in the 40s but they had one and decided to make it super efficient and they were very neat and tidy and they were very into assembly-line precision and Ray was selling milkshake machines and they place an order for a number of these machines and he cannot understand why they need to make so many milkshakes so he went to see the stand in the desert and fell in love with their technique and I sent if he could franchise that idea and they were reluctant but they said they did not want to do the work but if you wanted to they let him. The rest is history. Wended Joan come into the picture? About two years after Ray reignited that united with the McDonald's brother. Ray was scouring the Midwest at the time and he was living in Chicago and he was looking for potential franchisees and he walked into an elegant restaurant in St. Paul owned by a man named Jim and he saw this organist who was playing an entertaining the diners in this beautiful restaurant and her name was Joan Smith and she was a young woman with blond hair and beautiful and he was married and she was married, but from there the rest is history. Prevented they have a tumultuous relationship with They did. It was not a happy relationship. It took them a long time to get together and once he finally did, it was apparent that Ray was a big drinker and had a temper and Joan did not have a sweet temper and the two alighted into a very tumultuous relationship. Jones stuck it out in this difficult relationship and turned into something that helped so many other people. And your book you track how they were in San Diego. It began before they moved there with Ray buying the San Diego Padres just as they were literally packed up and ready to go and two years later they relocated to the area and he was a hero for having saved the team as it was about to move to Washington DC and Joan was mystified by baseball but at that point she was working on something shed started called operation court and it was a enduring effort to help educate people about the perils of drinking and on the entire family. She started that in response to his drinking. She did not get him to acknowledge that he had a problem so instead she turned into this incredible organization where she tapped into people's expertise and people who study the disease as well as filmmakers and writers and really did a lot of good to help people to do outreach and make them understand that. That was not just based in San Diego she did a lot of work in San Diego also. That was the start of her roots in the community. I'm sure people were aware of many ways that she touched a community. When he died how much money did Joan inherent quick About $5 million. Did she start giving it away right away quick Some people who are old enough to remember may remember this terrible incident in San Ysidro work on men went in and shut about the McDonald's there and it was the worst mass shooting in history. Without hesitation Joan stepped forward and gave $100,000 to start a victims fund before McDonald's even came forward. That was very controversial because the first payout went to the gunman's widow and her to my children, but it set the tone for Joan as an independent woman. We here at kpbs know that Joan donated $5 million to the station and she gave the biggest donation ever to National Public Radio. How did she decide which causes that she would support? Most of the time it was because she fell in love with the person. If she thought somebody was doing something useful or if she related to them, she would open up her pocketbook for them even if they did not ask a. And writing this book did you understand what actually the motivated her to give away just so much money? Did she feel guilty because she was so rich? Did she feel this was going to seal her legacy? What did you find out about that quick People told me that she felt responsible for this money and doing something good with that. She came from very level and she lived lavishly she gave lavishly also and I don't think she was trying to establish a legacy. She could kept to the foundation and it would have been given money away today but I think she would be mortified that NPR says her name on the air every day. My intent was to celebrate her and to inspire other people to give but also I think she really desk that was not in her mind at all. It was just responding and she was a news junkie she loved listening to the news and time and time again she saw something on the news that disturbed her and she would step forward and help the way many of us wish we could and very minor denominations but she was able to do it in a big way and -- I've been speaking with Lisa Napoli the author of Ray & Joan. It was just published and thank you so much for speaking what this. Thank you so much.

What started as a biography of philanthropist Joan Kroc turned into a story of two people, a tumultuous relationship and a lasting legacy.

Lisa Napoli got the idea for "Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald's Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away" when she was reporting on a sculpture in disrepair in Los Angeles. She discovered that it had been funded by Joan Kroc and wanted to know more about her. That's when she realized a biography of Joan Kroc had not been written. She decided she would be the one to do it.


When she started researching, she realized she couldn't tell Joan's story without telling her husband Ray Kroc's story.

Ray made his fortune by leading the franchising of McDonald's restaurants.

He and Joan first met while married to other people. Both eventually divorced and married each other. Their relationship was not perfect, Napoli said. Kroc had a drinking problem and a temper.

"Joan stuck it out in this difficult relationship and turned it into something that helped so many people," Napoli said.

The couple relocated to San Diego after Kroc bought the Padres in 1974, preventing the team from moving to Washington, D.C. The Krocs have made a lasting impact on San Diego, including the Ray & Joan Kroc Salvation Army Community Center and the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.


When Ray died in 1984, he left his wife about $500 million. She gave a good portion of that inheritance away, including setting a record for NPR's largest donation — $236 million — and a $5 million donation to KPBS.

Joan died of brain cancer in 2003.

Napoli speaks to Midday Edition on Thursday about the couple.

She will be speaking at La Jolla Riford Library, 7555 Draper Avenue, on Sat. Dec. 3 at 2 p.m. to discuss and sign her book.