Money Master of the Virtues, RIP

John Train was known to his largest audience through years of writing on investing and investors, most notably in his 1980 book, “The Money Masters.” But as anyone at closer range to John soon appreciated, it was Mammon who served this man’s insatiable curiosity. On subjects far and wide, he was interested and interesting, a fount of learned annotations delivered lightly. His well-lived life ended this month at his summer home in Maine at age 94.

It was there in the year 2000 that I visited him for a Forbes Magazine article on his new Civil Courage Prize. It annually and internationally honors, as he put it, “steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk.” The accolade since has reached into many corners of the world, as John’s travels and certainly his knowledge did. My trip back then combined, as John so often did, the consequential with the playful. While skippering me around his nearby waters on break, the septuagenarian drew a scold from the harbormaster for his illicit speed.

I had edited John’s submissions at the Wall Street Journal in the 1980s–not there writing on equities but on his ranging topical inquiries. These preceded digital search, but one I recall was an inside account–told from an everyman’s vantage–of one of the aircraft carriers that was part of the Reagan buildup. John’s interest in military affairs was reflected in his multiyear sponsorship of a yearly appearance by the U.S. service chiefs at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

John had conservative political instincts but liked to follow many an investigative trail (the Italian Mafia was a longtime interest) and to hear a range of views. These were voiced in symposia he’d host at his Manhattan townhouse or at a floating dinner salon he developed out of a consortium of wine-investing pals. The price of admission was to try to feed John with new information.

He never lost his touch for the markets–investment counseling was his vocation. Sometimes he gave away good advice. Over a meal soon after the dot-com crash, with my portfolio bruised, I asked for a few studier stocks. One he suggested was Automatic Data Processing, an unsexy listing with a steady dividend. It’s risen many fold and is my second-largest holding.

John also favored his friends at the holidays with his latest booklet of sayings, snippets or historical artifacts. One I’ve kept handy is “Rules of Engagement In War and Life.” Mao and Churchill are in there, Talleyrand and Satchell Paige. But also, in this one, are plenty of thoughts from “–J.T.” The first is an introductory caution: “Things change, so many of these notions are contradictory: life is like that.” This product of Groton and Harvard had seen much since those earliest days at the Paris Review in 1953.

This entry epitomizes the author–I can hear him saying it: “Don’t give quick answers to hard questions. ‘La nuit porte conseil,’ say the French: Contemplate a situation overnight.”

John’s ready erudition might have have been overbearing were it not for the frequent accompanying twinkle. “The greatest of the gift of the gods is a cheerful temperament,” read a J.T. Rule of Engagement. So true. And this: “Aging, keep active.” A good man of his word he was.

Aug. 24, 2022 (Photo from Forbes, by David McLain/Aurora)

Published by timwferguson

Longtime writer-editor, focusing on topics of business and policy, global and local.

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