BlogThe Story Behind the Legend
I was wrong about Ben Graham’s mother. In my last post, I explored how she wounded him, impelling Ben to toughen his shell. That shell lessened the pain she and others caused him, but kept him remote from others. Now I see that I missed something important—something akin to what his mentee Warren Buffett later received from his own father. In this post, I discover her key motivating message that fueled Ben Graham’s spectacular rise on Wall Street.
Ben Graham’s mother, Dorothy Graham, née Gesundheit (1870-1944), influenced him more than anyone else. I want to like and admire my great-grandmother—even love her—but I can’t. I’ll tell you why and take you on my quest to understand Ben Graham’s relationship with his mother. I hope to appreciate my great-grandmother more as I uncover the tragedies and challenges she faced as a widowed mother of three.
Ben Graham reveals: “Of my father I remember very little indeed. This is more regrettable because he was, by all accounts, a marvelous person.” Then, he recounts others’ “enthusiastic praise” of his father: “he was handsome, vivacious, charming and nearly always in a high good humor. He was also an excellent business man, keen-witted, energetic, and unfailingly resourceful.” What aspects of his father’s character helped shape Ben Graham?
Shortly after my husband and I settled ourselves in the conference room at Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett ambled through the door, dressed in a white mock turtleneck under a cornflower blue V-neck sweater. Belying the whiteness of his tousled hair, Mr. Buffett’s pale blue eyes shone with youthful eagerness as he remembered how my grandfather, Ben Graham, offered him a job in 1954.
I didn’t understand Ben Graham when I was a little girl and he was my “Grandpa Ben.” He was rich, so I thought his life was perfect. At age sixteen, I didn’t understand him when he took me on a cruise to the Black Sea; nor did I see him clearly the summer he welcomed me to his Aix-en-Provence cottage when I was twenty-one. I still didn’t fathom him in my forties…
The year was 1903. Benjamin Graham’s father Isaac had recently died at age thirty-five. Isaac’s once-thriving New York china shop was shuttered. Ben’s mother Dorothy had three sons to raise—eight-year-old Ben, nine-year-old Victor, and ten-year-old Leon—and no means of supporting them. How did she and the boys get by?
Benjamin Graham’s story began over a century ago, circa 1890, when his parents met and married in England. His mother Dorothy Graham, née Gesundheit, was born in 1870 into a Jewish merchant family in Warsaw, Poland. Her grandfather, Jacob Gesundheit, was a businessman and honored religious scholar who became chief rabbi of Warsaw in 1870…
This 1896 photographic portrait of Ben (age two) and his two older brothers hung in his home throughout his boyhood. Ben later expressed embarrassment at being “captured for posterity in short skirts.” This post reveals a blow Ben suffered which likely magnified his distress at seeing his younger self perpetually wearing girls’ clothes, while his brothers wore masculine attire.
Benjamin Graham taught hundreds of thousands of people how to invest in the stock market. He’s also my grandfather and he showed me how to invest in happiness. Beyond Ben Graham takes you beyond the “father of value investing” you already know.