Match Point


Lord and Lady Grantham

It’s an open secret that Lord Grantham married Cora for her money. Those great British houses, Downton Abbey in this case, are big and drafty and burn through cash like nobody’s business. When you’re unskilled, with no job history, and not the sharpest tool in the shed, (Lord Grantham nearly blew the family fortune on a Canadian railway stock), bartering title for cash seems perfectly reasonable.

This month’s Town & Country has a feature story on another love match also involving a vast fortune. J. Seward Johnson Sr., heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical dynasty, fell hard for Basia, a Polish art history student-cum-cook-cum-maid-cum-wife. Roundly accused of being a gold-digger—taking in their amorous behavior on a corporate jet, a J&J executive remarked, “The screwing that he’s getting now is nothing compared to the screwing he’s gonna get”—it was a love match that lasted 12 happy years until Seward succumbed to prostate cancer.

In 2013 Basia herself passed leaving a fortune estimated at $3.6 billion. Equally as incompetent with money as Lord Grantham, Basia had the misfortune of lacking the good counsel of friends and family to help her keep the ship on course. She spent money on one folly after another, starting and never finishing most projects and acquiring enmities along the way. There was never any shortage of individuals—from dubious art dealers to minor royals like Prince Albert of Monaco—to relieve her of her funds.

Disillusioned by America and European high-society, toward the end of her life Basia returned to Poland. She was reported to be seen pacing her garden with her small dog and muttering, “What was all this for?”

Indeed, what is it all for?

On the recommendation of Bob Odenkirk, soon to be seen in the spin-off to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, (you’re welcome Bob), I’m really digging that hippie classic Das Energi by Paul Williams. The premise being the entire universe, including us, is just a mass of energy. Or something like that.

There are many philosophical systems that work with energy but the one I’m familiar with is medical qi gong. For optimum health one needs to create a balance between purging stale energy and acquiring healthy energy and then circulating it inside and outside the body.

It’s not a big leap to think of money management in similar terms.

In qi gong, one must be grounded before doing anything else. Basia had a a tremendous amount of energy, (her inherited fortune), but she was ungrounded. Lacking perception, she was vulnerable to her own idiosyncrasies, as well as to the unscrupulous individuals drawn to her. She made poor investments and dissipated the money. Would practicing qi gong regularly have helped her? We’ll never know.

But to help answer Basia’s question, “What’s it all for?”, maybe it’s not about some magic number and, instead, it’s about evolving our understanding of energy and then using it, sometimes in the form of money, in meaningful and productive ways? Just an idea.

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