Chester Martin Remembers Some Rich People

Friday, April 1, 2016 - by Chester Martin

No, you won't find any specific name in this as it is intended to be very "general". And I am far too old to gain anything by pandering to anyone who might be considered "rich". So let me start this out where I have often started in the past: almost every time I got a painting project such as a mural or an historical painting to do, I started at our superb downtown public library.

I will wager that every local person reading this has stood at the check-out desk on the ground floor and perused the large bronze plaque, loaded with names of the many contributors to its building fund.

It reads like the Social Register of the City of Chattanooga! We need to thank those generous people who "forked over the cash" to build that fine structure, and from which we can all  benefit. I know for a fact that raising all that money took some urging, but it ultimately came through. Chattanooga has been blessed with many people of that "generous" ilk through the years, and, through my work I have been able to know a few of them, "up close and personal".

The ones I have known have all been very down-to-earth and not the least bit snobby. They share many of the exact same problems as we poorer people do - like how to get the kids to and from school in inclement weather - or what to do with a child who gets a sudden injury on the playground. Money can bail you out of a lot of problems, for sure, but it can't instantly cure a broken arm or a dread disease. The rich have all the same human problems as us poorer people, PLUS the constant vigilance required to maintain their status AS "rich". (The higher you climb the ladder, the more wobbly it gets!)

Anyway, one time, some 40 years ago, I was in a home on the West Brow of the mountain and soon noticed that I was the only male in a room full of school girls of widely varying ages. "Mama" (Grandmama, actually) was seated at a small writing desk. I was there to see that good lady, but she had other business to attend to first. After a few minutes I figured it out - that she was writing each of her granddaughters a check - an allowance of some sort - about which all seemed quite pleased. And I thought, "How nice!", and that everyone could benefit by having a "Mama" such as she to hand out free money! I would have liked to do the same for my own two grandsons...

I knew a very prominent local artist many years ago - and who is dead now. He had been commissioned to paint a small mural in a house on one of the mountains. The family represented "Old Money" and my friend was delighted to receive the commission. He was shown the room and the wall area which he was going  to paint, setting up the necessary work table, etc. He got to work early and painted all morning. When 12 noon arrived, instead of inviting him to join the family in the dining room (or even around the kitchen table), they sent him a plate instead! OH!  the chagrin and embarrassment that caused him! He only passed that story to one or two trusted friends, in the strictest confidence. (I only heard it second-hand years after the event from one of the confidantes - a well-known art director of the time).

That is definitely how some rich people have been: somewhat reclusive to avoid close scrutiny except by their own families or class; afraid to allow others to see how common an ordinary life they actually lead. Misers exist, that is true, but the overwhelming number of rich people are altruistic and good-hearted, wishing to see their cities or towns appear prosperous as a matter of their own social (or civic) pride. It is a bit far-fetched, perhaps, to think of how the good Jewish Rothschild family paid for the total reconstruction of (Christian) St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna at the end of WW2, but it happened, pleasing both Rothschild and Citizens. Old Vienna would not have looked or felt "right" with that huge church missing. Numerous other examples abound.

My point is that it is very easy to bash the rich, but they are human, too. If you ever stop by the Association for Visual Arts on Frazier Avenue, ask to see one of their brochures which gives a respectable listing of local businesses and Foundations which support them. Behind every one of those businesses is at least ONE LIVING PERSON who wishes to help improve our total civic environment.

Be grateful for our goodly number of wealthy people, folks, - the Library donors and others - for, rich or poor, we all share the same basic goals!

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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