On a chilly Sunday morning in the fall of 1969, while hanging out at McDonalds after Mass, a long, gold-painted limousine, license plate “WC3”, pulled into the parking lot. Out of the backseat, which was full of well-dressed people, stepped a small man with a pencil-thin mustache, wearing a suit and smoking a very smelly cigar.
Because I had read that morning’s Chicago Tribune profile on a local billionaire insurance tycoon, I recognized W. Clement Stone III.
I took a moment to bask in the fact I was just a few feet away from Chicago’s richest man, then began trying to figure out what the hell W. Clement Stone was doing in the Clark St. McDonalds in Rogers Park.
Stone was not only famous for being a fabulously wealthy (self made) man who lived by a philosophy based on “positive thinking,” he was also well known at the time (and remembered today) as Richard Nixon’s biggest financial backer. His donations impacted campaign finance laws.
Mr. Stone’s contributions of more than $2 million to President Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972 — on top of even greater donations to Mr. Nixon in 1968 — were cited in Congressional debates after Watergate as a reason for instituting campaign spending limits.
I surmised that Stone and his entourage were en route to the Bears game at Wrigley Field. Traveling into the city from his Winnetka mansion, Stone had stopped at McDonalds to pick up provisions for the trip.
Based on what happened next, I realized this it was likely Stone’s first McDonalds visit. When Stone placed his order, the teenager waiting on him looked puzzled, then bent closer to the billionaire. He asked Stone to repeat his request.
A moment later, it was Stone’s turn to be puzzled. He clearly did not expect to receive six hot chocolates.
Apparently, Stone had ordered “six hot dogs.”
Did I mention this was probably his first “Mickey D” experience?
There followed a quick explanation, that “McDonald’s doesn’t do that. ” Stone’s hot drinks were replaced with semi-warm hamburgers. He picked up his bag and headed for the door.
On the occasion of his 85th birthday, the Chicago Tribune published this wonderful profile, which gives you an idea of what it must have been like to be in Stone’s company.