What happened to the Widener fortune?

The founding of the Widener dynasty and  the fortune that resulted is described in this blog.  This post will examine, briefly, what became of the Widener family and the fortune behind the name. Confusion as to the heirs of the fortune arise because it involves family names other than Widener.  It can be conjectured that if George D. Widener, son of Peter A. B. Widener, and George Widener’s son Harry had not perished in the wreck of the Titanic in April 1912, there might be Widener heirs today overseeing the maintenance and expansion of the family fortune and a family benefactor overseeing the restoration and operation of Lynnewood Hall.

There were other surviving Wideners. One of the children of George Widener was his other son George D. Widener Jr.    George became famous for his horse breeding and it was his love.  He died in 1971.

Peter A. B. Widener II, most famous actually for his autobiography with the curious book title, Without Drums and published in 1940, lived until 1948. He had at least one son, Peter A. B. Widener III. This third generation Widener attended the University of Kentucky and according to the university, had to stop his studies to take over management of the family fortune upon the death of his father in 1948.  Did George D. Widener Jr. and P.A.B. Widener III jointly manage the family holdings?  I have not been able to determine this.

Peter A. B. Widener III lived until 1999 and yet the fortune did not remain in his control, apparently.  As a result of marriages and curious machinations of family wills and trusts, control of the Widener family fortune shifted to others.

One of the grandchildren of the family patriarch was Josephine “Fifi” Widener. When she was 17 years old, she married a college freshman by the last name Leidy.  They had one child, Joan Widener Leidy.  In 1941, when Joan was also 17 years old, she married George E. Paine Jr.  Joan became the heir to the Widener fortune.  She divorced George Paine in 1950, and Joan married  James Chandler Ray, a former Air Force pilot and a rancher.  This couple had two children: a daughter by the name of Joan and a son–James Widener Ray born in 1952.

Here is where the story of the Widener fortune gets very strange. When James Widener Ray turned 21 he became an heir and received an annual stipend of $1 million from the Joseph E. Widener Trust.  Later, Joseph Ray was diagnosed with what would later be identified as bipolar disorder. Stories circulated that whenever his Mercedes broke down, he would not have it repaired, he simply bought another new one.

James Widener Ray suffered from mental illness and had to undergo repeated treatment.  His father assumed control of his son’s finances. However, when Joan Widener Ray died in 1988, James inherited  roughly $38 million.  Up to that point, Ray did not even have an attorney.  Ray got a knowledgeable estate attorney, who recommended a new professional guardian instead of his father. Ray hired the services of Guardianship Services of Seattle.

Through proper treatment for his bipolar disorder, James Widener Ray was able to get control of his mind and behavior.  He lived in Seattle, Washington.  His looks were unassuming and few would have thought he was such a wealthy man. He never married, but he had a circle of friends and traveled around the world.  In 1994, he started the Raynier Foundation to support various charities and other causes.

Ray’s will originally listed his estate to go to family members, but it was revised in 1998 so it all to the Raynier Foundation.  When Ray died of a heart attack in 1999, his half sister Joan went to court over the will.  An out of court settlement was finally reached in 2006 that put Joan on the Board of the Foundation. However, she died in 2009. The foundation today  is primarily involved with homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, and contributing to art and music causes.



1 thought on “What happened to the Widener fortune?

  1. robert the bruce

    You did miss quite a bit. PAB Sr had 2 sons and a daughter. Each of them had children….and so on. You only trace part of one of those three branches (PAB Sr>Joseph> his children PABII and Fifi).
    James Widener Ray left $80 million in his estate. He had several aunts, uncles, and cousins who all had/have similar fortunes.
    As you mentioned in the beginning, many of the Widener heirs are not named Widener.


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