Joan Kroc, Peace Benefactor, Dies at 75; McDonald's Heir Revered for Her Unrivaled Generosity to Antiwar Efforts

By McCarthy, Colman | National Catholic Reporter, November 28, 2003 | Go to article overview

Joan Kroc, Peace Benefactor, Dies at 75; McDonald's Heir Revered for Her Unrivaled Generosity to Antiwar Efforts


McCarthy, Colman, National Catholic Reporter


With an estimated fortune of $1.7 billion, Joan Kroc had private jet, multiple houses, a yacht and servants. That was her outward wealth, which didn't much distinguish her from those on the annual lists of the world's richest people. But she had inner wealth that did: an active and often restless conscience that earned her a revered place in the American peace movement.

At her death Oct. 12 at age 75--at her home in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego--Joan Kroc's generosity to peace and antiwar groups was unrivaled, both in the amounts she gave and in her disinterest in being hailed. Days after her death, both the University of Notre Dame and the University of San Diego revealed that she had left $50 million to each school to be used for peace education. In 1986, she gave Notre Dame a $12 million gift and reluctantly allowed the Institute for International Peace Studies to be named after her.

In 2001, she gave more than $25 million to San Diego for its peace studies program.

She understood the need for education: Unless we teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.

Following the death in 1984 of her husband Ray Kroc, the owner of McDonald's, she all but franchised her donations: in the hundreds of millions, to groups such as the Salvation Army, Special Olympics, homeless shelters, hospitals, hospices and relief organizations. Grateful to National Public Radio for its coverage of the U.S. war against Iraq, which she adamantly opposed, she left the nonprofit organization $200 million.

Despite the largeness of Joan Kroc's generosity, she was not well known beyond Southern California. The day her obituary ran in The New York Times, the paper devoted twice as much space to the deaths of a rock guitarist and a psychologist with expertise in infidelity.

Among her closest allies was Gene LaRocque, the former admiral who founded the Center for Defense Information in 1972. "Joan was horrified of war--nuclear war, conventional war, any kind of war," he recalled after her death. In the mid-1980s, LaRocque organized a peace conference in Washington. Only women were invited. Joan Kroc came. An enduring friendship began, with LaRocque mentoring the newcomer to the peace movement. "I never asked Joan for money," LaRocque Said, which may explain why she became one of the center's most generous backers. It was well-known in the peace community that approaching Joan Kroc with a tin cup--"Give me some money, I'm against war!"--was the worst way of getting it filled. …

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