‘Ray & Joan’


Lisa Napoli, Dutton, 353 pages, $27.

Ray Kroc was no Willy Loman. Unlike the troubled character in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” the hard-charging Kroc knew what he wanted and set out to get it. When he died in 1984, he commanded an empire that spanned the world, and made him and many of his associates unbelievably rich — all thanks to a hamburger stand he came upon in Southern California. Yet attention must also be paid to his third wife, Joan, a dashing blonde who caught Kroc’s eye one night while playing a Hammond organ in an upscale restaurant in St. Paul. Impoverished as a child, and not much better off in early adulthood, she dreamed of better years to come — and did they ever come. Lisa Napoli’s entertaining biography tracks Kroc’s own philanthropy such as his gifts to Dartmouth College and the creation of Ronald McDonald Houses. But what Napoli captures so well is Joan, who, having gotten so much for the simple act of saying “I do,” decided that others were as equally entitled to her good fortune as she was. After Ray died, she started doling out money, much of it anonymously. Her will disbursed more than $2.7 billion, including more than $1 billion to the Salvation Army and $225 million to NPR. She became a voice for the voiceless, as seen in her fund for the victims of a madman’s rampage in 1984 at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif. Napoli has given us a book that is a snapshot of 20th-century America. That her two main characters were both rags-to-riches stories makes it all the more appealing.