Anna Thompson Dodge
Born into a family of modest circumstances in 1871, Anna Thompson was taken from Dundee to the US by her widowed mother when she was a little girl. She was musically talented, and when she grew up she supported them both by teaching the piano in Detroit. When she was twenty five she married a mechanic called Horace Dodge. He and his brother set up a bicycle manufacturing shop, which grew into making car parts and then into making cars. He created the Dodge motor car empire and made a fortune. Horace died in 1920, and Anna inherited $59 million / £24 million. Put into bonds this yielded $1,500,000 / £625,000 p.a. Anna was the richest person in USA (possibly in the world).
In 1926 Anna married again, to an unsuccessful actor, Hugh Dillman, she had met in Venice and again in Palm Beach. This marriage didn’t last long; they separated in 1940, divorced seven years later and she reverted to the name of Dodge. But “Hugh taught me how to have fun with my money.” However, according to the Palm Beach Daily News, Oct 3rd, 1971 ‘...underneath the splendour there were hints that she retained a longing for the simplicity of her early life’. But she did know how to spend.
She spent two years in Europe collecting French art and furniture, and she was said to own jewellery worth $6 million, including Catherine of Russia’s pearls (389 in five strands). In 1934 she commissioned Detroit’s grandest home, ‘Rose Terrace’ which boasted 75 rooms.
Anna and Horace had two children, Delphine and Horace Junior. Anna might have become a concert pianist had she not damaged her right hand when hurrying from the shops one day, but Delphine took on her mantle and became a professional pianist. Delphine died in 1942, having married three times. Horace Jnr married five times, and died in 1963. Clearly a family with difficulty in relationships. Their mother was left feeling very lonely, especially when she broke her hip at age 97 and was thereafter confined to her mansion. However she reverted to simple tastes and enjoyed singing hymns, watching TV and eating ice cream.
Anna died two months before her 99th birthday. Her 17-limousine funeral had a police escort and included her seven grandchildren and their families. Alas, they promptly embarked on tangled wrangles over Anna’s $100m / £41m estate. Riches ain’t everything.