The Death of Irony

The following are two sequential paragraphs from the obituary in the Baltimore Sun of Kingdon Gould Jr., a great-grandson of robber baron Jay Gould:

When asked in 2014 by a Howard County Times reporter what he had learned from his great-grandfather’s life, Mr. Gould said: “So-called financial success is relatively short-lived, and depending on the quality of the people that inherited it, it can all evaporate.”

As a child he lived in a triplex apartment of 20 rooms and eight baths in Manhattan. He attended the Millbrook School and went off to Yale University to major in English literature.

9 thoughts on “The Death of Irony”

  1. It may be that I'm too literal minded but what's the irony here? Kingdon Gould would seem to be making a fairly reasonable and self-aware observation that even great wealth is fragile and that there's a tendency for the offspring to become less capable of preserving and managing it. He didn't say that everyone who inherits a lot of money instantly goes broke, just that there's a tendency for that to happen.

    Unless he later ended up living in a cold water walkup in Hoboken, I just don't see anything particularly ironic.

    1. I totally agree with Mitch. Kingdon Gould could be the model of what exemplifies the best in folks born to privilege.

      At age eighteen, having graduated from prep school he went in the army to fight in WW2. He didn't simply graduate from prep school and go off to Yale. Was he drafted? Perhaps so, or maybe he volunteered, but I would guess that with his connections he could have gotten a deferment. While serving in combat, he got two Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars. So he wasn't sitting on his butt in a supply depot or a HQ office assignment.

      When he returned from the war he then went to college, got his degree, and spent a long successful career in both business and public service. To me, not the portrait of a fellow who was born on third base and went through life thinking he hit a triple.

      1. I didn't want to say what you said, b/c it sounded so elitist, and …. well, I hate that. But one is … *forced* to the conclusion that if there is a case to be made for elites, Kingdom Gould is a decent exemplar of that case. Which I hate, but it's true, I fear.

  2. I too am missing the irony, but Kingdon Gould's response strikes me as an odd answer to the question (assuming the reporter correctly matched answer to question–not always a given in obituary writing). From what I can tell of the senior Gould's life, the tendency of inherited wealth to evaporate isn't among the things it could be used to illustrate. Regardless, I could have done without the coyly self-congratulatory comment about "the quality of the people who inherit."

    It is true, as Ken Rhodes notes, that Gould served in WWII–so did Elliot Roosevelt. It was that kind of war. it was expected, and that doesn't mean he shouldn't get credit for it. But to follow it up with "he then went to college," as if that were an indicator of initiative seems to me a bit disingenuous: people of that class do, and did, that sort of thing. Yale, no less, where he undoubtedly made connections that stood him in good stead in his businesses. That is, at the very least, the story of a man who, having been born on third decides to run towards home rather than running backwards to second or simply chucking the whole thing and taking a nap in the soft and lovely grass.

    1. I don't agree with "disingenuous." My reply of "he then went to college" wasn't a congratulatory pat on the back, it was a clarification of the slightly off-target sentence in the original post, which stated "attended the Millbrook School and went off to Yale University." I was merely pointing out that three years at the front, with two Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars, is not equivalent to taking the summer off before starting college.

      1. Thank you. I apologize for having misread your comment. You are entirely right about Gould's military service. And for the rest of it, certainly, he did well with what he was given, and that is in itself something.

  3. I assume that Kingdon Gould was an honorable man. His military service was, to say the least, exemplary. And, as noted, he had a significant history of community service. However, one thing that is made clear by his life history (fortified if one takes a brief Google search of his offspring): "So-called financial success is [not] relatively short-lived."

    1. A very minor quibble: I think he was making an observation about the general tendency of great wealth to be dissipated over a few generations and how the cocoon offered by great wealth had been the downfall of many irresponsible wastrels. But he seems to be saying that it’s a tendency to be guarded against by families and not that it’s an inevitability.

  4. I'm with most of the commentariat here. We still have plenty of noblesse….it's sad that they no longer feel the oblige.

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