How extraordinary that, just when I’m ready to write about my Grandpa Ben, I find this photograph of him tucked in a box on my office shelf. I don’t remember seeing the photo before, but surely I must have when it arrived by airmail, almost fifty years ago. The snapshot shows my grandfather relaxing on his poppy-red couch in the La Jolla apartment he shared with his beloved “Malou”—short for Marie Louise—on May 9, 1976. It’s his eighty-second birthday, and I wish I could give him a celebratory hug. Elegant in a suit and burgundy tie, he looks the way I remember him: healthy, beaming, tranquil.
Marie Louise stands beside their gray tabby cat, Minet (“Kitty”), her hand extended to meet Minet’s proffered paw. Ben and Malou always conversed in French. I remember, with a pang of affection, how they used to love to urge Minet: “Donne moi la papatte.” (“Give me your paw.”) Offering his white-socked paw, Minet brought a burst of joy to their faces. I turn the photo over and read Marie Louise’s handwritten notes on the back, which I overlooked long ago:
To Charlo 82nd birthday, May 9, 1976 Happy memories - Ben smiling, as always Minet giving “La papatte.” Minet died the same week Ben passed away …Minet in California, Ben in Aix. Animal’s feeling and nostalgie (= nostalgia in French) we never know.
That’s when I learn that Minet died in La Jolla the same week Grandpa. Ben died in Aix-en-Provence, France, on September 6, 1976.
That same September, five hundred miles north of La Jolla, I lay in Intensive Care stricken with viral meningitis. I was twenty-five years old. I surfaced from brain fog to perceive white coats hovering over my bed. A clinical voice rattled off: “fever, stiff neck, confused.” A warm doctor’s voice asked my name. Did I know where I was? I did. I felt embarrassed that my dark, waist-length hair lay around me in disarray, like a tangle of briars. I knew nothing about my Grandpa Ben or his cat. To avoid exacerbating my illness, my mother Marjorie—Ben Graham’s eldest surviving child—had kept me in the dark about Grandpa Ben’s passing.
Provence’s vineyards blazed golden yellow and red when my mother arrived to carry her father’s ashes from Aix-en-Provence to New York. Weeks later, the family gathered to inter his ashes at the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Too weak to travel, I was not there. I deeply regret that I wasn’t able to attend my grandfather’s funeral. My fellow grandchildren, my mother, and my aunts remembered and praised our paterfamilias without me.
Many years later, the sound of rippling water wafts through a screen door. I live with my dear husband—the doctor whose warm voice I first heard that day my hair lay in disarray—and our little Corgi. I stare into the middle distance—across a salt water lagoon, a redwood canyon—and think of my Grandpa Ben. In an antiqued photo album, I find this photograph of Grandpa and me talking on his honey-yellow striped couch.
Grandpa Ben and I would have been facing his poppy-red couch, the one pictured at the top of this post. Suddenly I realize that I hadn’t chosen my best-loved furnishings—my red couch and pair of honey-yellow striped chairs—by happenstance. I picked out the colors decades ago, to surround myself with the honey-yellow and red comfort he offered me when I was young.
I have come to understand what a difference my Grandpa Ben made in my life. I need to do something to make up for missing his funeral. I’m ready to give voice to my gratitude for Grandpa Ben and to my curiosity about him. I’m ready to write my own 21st century elegy for him—this blog.
If I had attended his funeral, I might have learned a great deal about my amiable yet enigmatic grandfather. Now, I know enough to step up to the podium.
What impels this granddaughter to speak about Benjamin Graham, when value investors around the world employ his principles and discuss his ideas? Without question, he is enormously revered as the father of security analysis and value investing.
Still, there is so much more to his story. I created Beyond Ben Graham to honor my Grandpa Ben and to explore his extraordinary evolution as a person.
Benjamin Graham did not spend his entire life as the master fund manager devoted to making gains for the investors who entrusted him with their money. In 1956, he quit Wall Street. For his last twenty years, he led a completely different life. I had the privilege of knowing him well in his golden years, a cliché except that, for him, they really were golden. With three broken marriages behind him, he shared his life happily with his “precious Malou” and occupied himself with non-financial matters such as translating poetry, family visits, and a project to rebuild a church for a Black congregation in Connecticut.
On the heels of his early retirement, my Grandpa Ben had the courage to look inward. In May of 1957, he set down his observations in his “Self-Portrait at Sixty-Three,” published in the Memoirs. He saw that his boyhood trauma had made him “remote and inaccessible to others.” In the Blog, I will unpack the youthful wounds he experienced and their effect on his relationships. When his heart began to open, he wrote these words, referring to himself in the third person:
“At age sixty and beyond he was to begin his emotional development all over again; he must accept Love not as an experience of life, but as the experience of life.”
Benjamin Graham, “Self-Portrait at Sixty-Three,” 1957.
It’s unexpected when a sixty-something legend in the investing field writes about beginning his emotional development. It’s astonishing when one of the most brilliant men of the 20th century proclaims the supreme importance of Love. These weren’t just words to my Grandpa Ben. His growing self-awareness became his lodestar. The same resolve that fueled his spectacular rise on Wall Street fueled his drive to go beyond Wall Street, toward the personal fulfillment he sought, and which—as evident in his birthday photo—he found in his last decade.
That’s why I’m compelled to write Beyond Ben Graham. The Blog will journey beyond the known Ben Graham, to the Ben Graham who acknowledged his wounds and began to heal. To the Ben Graham who saw that less earning and less spending brought more love and more connection. To the friendly, accepting Ben Graham, who spent his final years in a harmonious relationship with a loving woman. To the Grandpa Ben who blazed a trail toward happiness for this granddaughter to follow. The Ben Graham who let small joys—a cat pawing his pencil, the rhythms of a line from Baudelaire, a velvety vegetable soup—make him smile.
Most of what I have to tell you about Ben Graham, you won’t read anywhere else. My sources are unique; my memories of Grandpa Ben are vivid; and Grandpa Ben and I share family history. You may even find out which life-changing book Ben Graham gave his grandson and learn Malou’s recipe for the French vegetable soup that graced his table.
Next in Reflections: Grandpa Ben’s Palazzos