Millionaire Lived Like a Bag Lady, Left Fortune to Improve Education

Doris Schwartz, a former West York teacher and flight attendant, left $3.4 million to improve education in York County.

Nancy Frey first met Doris Schwartz when her son was renting an apartment in a building in Emigsville owned by Doris' sister, Kitty.

Doris had a friend named Smittie, who lived in one of the building's three apartments, and would stop by to look after her. After Kitty died, the apartment house was willed to Smittie. When Smittie died, Nancy bought the building from Doris, who was handling the estate.

That's how they got to know one another. It was about 17 years ago. Doris was about 80 at the time and lived alone. She had no one to take care of her, no family to speak of, so Nancy took it upon herself to look after her.

Doris lived in a cluttered old rowhouse on West Poplar Street in West York, a house she inherited from her parents. She lived modestly, to say the least. Nancy said she lived as if it were still the Great Depression, a time Doris had lived through. She never spent money. She didn't really go anywhere. She never bought herself anything. She subsisted, as near as Doris could tell, on peanut butter and ice cream.

Nancy had no idea that this little old lady who lived in a cluttered rowhouse had been a world traveler and had amassed a fortune, that she was a multi-millionaire who, three years after her death, would make news for endowing a fund for education with the York County Community Foundation, prompting more than one person to ask: Who was this woman and how did she accumulate all of that wealth?

***

Doris Schwartz was born on West Poplar Street, in the 1100 block, on Sept. 5, 1919. She went to Shippensburg University, and after graduation went to work teaching French at West York High School.

As Nancy tells it, it didn't take long for her to realize that teaching wasn't for her. She was restless. She was a voracious reader and wanted to travel to see all of the places she read about in books. She wanted to see the world beyond West York.

She got a job as a flight attendant – they were called stewardesses at the time – with American Airlines. She was an attractive young woman. At the time, that was a prerequisite for the job. She was very intelligent and well read.

And the adventure that was her life began.

She lived in New York and worked international flights, traveling to Europe and the Far East. She visited just about every country in Europe. She had been to Japan and China. She had been everywhere, it seemed, collecting mementos of her trips – ornaments from Japan that she hung on her Christmas tree and tea cups that she kept on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the front room of her home.

During the Vietnam War, she volunteered to work on flights transporting troops to and from Southeast Asia, said her lifelong friend, Ken Smith. She also spoke of meeting movie stars and other celebrities on flights. She met Joe DiMaggio, for instance, Ken said.

She met a pilot named Carl Schaffer, and they became companions; she referred to him as her significant other. They shared the New York apartment – and for a time, after they retired, lived on a sailboat in Fort Lauderdale. They were together for decades, but they never wed, never had children. The wheel from the sailboat hung on her living room wall, just below a photo of Carl and her on the sailboat. It's an old photo. They looked like movie stars. They were smiling. Doris was holding what appears to be a can of Knickerbocker beer.

Doris didn't talk much about her adventures, about what she did during her travels, Nancy said. She would just say she visited such-and-such a country and that other one, stuff like that. She was kind of private, kind of a loner, Nancy said. She would say, repeatedly, that she had a wonderful life.

When Carl died in the '80s of prostate cancer, Doris moved back home, into the rowhouse that had belonged to her parents.

She still traveled a lot. As a retiree, she was entitled to free airline tickets and would take off every year for England, or Hong Kong, or Switzerland, or anyplace else. Ken Smith said she sometimes would be gone for months at a time. She traveled well into her 80s.

At some point, though, she couldn't handle the travel. So she pretty much stayed home. She didn't like to go out much, except to have dinner at the Roosevelt Tavern or breakfast with old friends. Nancy said she always told her that she spent so many years among people on airliners that she didn't really want to be around crowds anymore.

She never watched movies on television, only sports and the stock market reports. She loved basketball, tennis and football.

She watched the stock market with a sharp eye. She was always jotting things down on the backs of envelopes that she saved – notes about investments and calculations. She never used a calculator or a computer. Everything was recorded on the backs of envelopes that had once contained, say, her water bill. She kept track of everything. She had stacks of envelopes all over her house. They covered her bed. She was a knowledgeable and astute investor, her lawyer said.

Eventually, Nancy learned that Doris was quite wealthy. Doris probably knew how much she had accumulated over the years, but it wasn't the kind of information she shared. She had inherited some of it from Carl. She had saved the rest, and through good investments, it had grown into millions. She would get dividend checks in the mail now and then and she wouldn't even open them. Nancy would tell her she had to cash the checks and put the money in the bank. She would go to the bank and deposit 30 or more checks at a time.

Doris never acted like she was wealthy. Her car, always parked out front, was a '95 Toyota. When Nancy would go to the grocery store for her, she would instruct her friend only to buy peanut butter or coffee or other staples when they were on sale.

She lived, Nancy said, like "a bag lady." She would eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon, lining up the empty jars in her bedroom, the spoons still in them. Nancy would buy her a gallon of ice cream, and that would be all she would eat for a couple of days. She never ate fruit or vegetables, except when Nancy would take her to her favorite Chinese restaurant, Shangrila, in a strip mall on White Street, where she would order her regular – shrimp chow mein, egg drop soup and fried rice.

Nancy would do her hair because she said she didn't know how much to tip the hairdresser.

Dishes would be piled in the sink of her kitchen, an old-fashioned affair that hadn't been renovated since the house was built more than a century ago. Nancy had to argue with her to change the sheets on her bed.

Nancy would also, every Christmas, put up her tree. She enjoyed the tree and the Japanese ornaments she'd decorated it with. But she wasn't big on the holidays, any holidays. Nancy always bought her several presents so she'd have something to open. Doris never bought her any presents.

Doris died April 9, 2013. Her one-paragraph obituary listed no family. She was 93.

Nancy and Ken were named co-executors of her estate and, working with attorney John Stitt, began the process of unraveling her financial history.

It was complicated. There were nine large boxes of paperwork to comb through.

In a second-floor bedroom of her home, they found piles of records and old bills and receipts. She never threw anything away. She had bills – all paid – that dated to the '80s, when she moved into the house.

They had no idea of her holdings. They found accounts all over the world. She had investments in Europe and Japan and bank accounts in Singapore and maybe Hong King. She had a safe deposit box that contained gold foil imprinted with Vietnamese lettering.

They found letters from Credit Suisse in Switzerland indicating that she had a safe deposit box there. The box, it turned out, was full of gold bullion. Stitt had to fly to Switzerland to retrieve it – having it delivered to her bank in West York by a Brink's armored truck. Stitt said, "It was the most gold I have ever seen in one place in my entire life, and I'm 66."

Her estate was in excess of $4 million.

Of that, she bequeathed $3.4 million to the York County Community Foundation to establish the Doris E. Schwartz Education Fund. When the foundation announced the establishment of the fund Tuesday, it mentioned that Schwartz's donation was the single largest estate gift it had ever received aimed at a particular issue – in this case, education.

Her initial will – the one Stitt reviewed when he first met her – had bequeathed her estate to some preacher, a Billy Graham-type, something that was a suggestion from Carl. She told Stitt she was following Carl's wishes. Stitt asked whether she knew the preacher, and when she said she didn't know who he was or anything about him, Stitt suggested that she donate her estate to something she believed in.

When Stitt suggested the idea of donating her money to the foundation to assist education, Doris liked the idea that her estate would help teachers, even though she had abandoned teaching early on to travel the world. She told him she always liked educating people.

The foundation was stunned by her generosity. None of the executives there had ever met her. They said they would have liked to.

And they should have.

As Nancy said, "She was something, believe me."

Copyright 2016 WFMY


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment