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The Richest Man in Town

Mr. Stokes Brown was the richest man in town.  At least that was what many folks said.  He lived in a small town in Middle Tennessee, and even if he was not the richest, he was very close.  Mr. Stokes had a shock of silver hair and was always impeccably dressed.  He was kind and unassuming, and always unfailingly nice to me.  He was urbane and sophisticated; almost patrician in his manners.  He arose every morning, put on his suit and tie, and went to his office where he and his secretary managed his investments.  He married my wife's Aunt Sadie when they were both in their early 70's.  Sadie was likewise a wonderful, beautiful lady; one could easily describe her as elegant.  Sadie maintained her beauty well into her eighties, and I loved to be around, and talk with, both of them.  They could have easily served as the model couple for many of the financial advertisements one sees depicting well-to-do retirees.  We would see Stokes and Sadie two or three times a year at family gatherings, and I would always endeavor to talk with Stokes about investments, the economy, politics, or whatever Stokes cared to discuss.  He was well-read and knowledgeable about any number of topics.

I was reminded of Stokes recently as I was reading about all of the challenges, both economic and otherwise, that we face today in America.  We are awash in news of the credit crunch, the housing meltdown, the falling dollar, the federal deficit, global warming, political bickering, the shaky stock market, the price of fuel, the war in Iraq, terrorist attacks, the crowded skies, etc., etc.  Well, you get my drift.  Sometimes I want to concede these issues to the "perma bears" who have been predicting that the end is near for decades and head for the hills; or at least head back to my share of mine and my sister's little farm where I can have a big garden and hopefully survive the coming Armageddon.  Then I remembered an encounter I had with Stokes several years ago.  It was not long after the tragic events we now call 9/11.  The "tech wreck" was in full steam and taking the rest of the stock market with it; the country was slipping into a recession; and the world was still sorting out the Asian currency crisis.  There were probably other threats a that time that I cannot recall, but I do recall that I was pretty low as I had watched my meager little number drop by about 30% over the past several months. When I encountered Stokes on this occasion, I could not wait to get his take on the situation we were facing, so I began by asking him if he still had any of his money in equities.  He replied "Why of course.  Why do you ask, Mike?"  I explained that I had lost a good deal of my retirement fund and was getting "cold feet" when it came to my investments.  I will always remember his reply.  He said that I should stay the course with my equities, maintain reasonable diversification, and wait for the markets to recover because they always had in the past.  Then, he pointed an index finger, crooked by age, at me and said "Don't you ever forget this!  No one has ever made any real money betting against this country; not ever in its history!  We will survive this period just as we have survived all the rest of our challenges."  Then he proceeded to tell me that he had always had a considerable portion of his money in the American stock market.  I left Stokes that day not totally convinced that he had given me sound advice.  Time, at least so far, has proven him right.

I saw Stokes for the last time a couple of years ago in a small room in a local hospice beside his beloved Sadie's bed where her life slowly ebbed away.  We did not talk about investing that day; we talked about Sadie and the twelve wonderful years they had shared together.  Stokes, too, passed away within a year of Sadie.  We should all hope to grow old with the class and dignity which he and Sadie displayed.  I miss both of them.

I do not pretend that our country does not face some significant problems, and some of them will not go away unless they are confronted head on.  We need leaders in Congress and the Senate with wisdom and courage that has not been on display recently to face these issues.  But I think I am going to follow Stokes Brown's advice.  I will not be betting against America!

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Reader Comments (1)

Mike, I am really enjoying reading your post. I wish you had a way of reaching more people. I think I can see a book in your future.

December 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterweknudsen

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