But Coates wasn't a nouveau riche jet-setter. Money was as natural as the rising sun. He was born with it, married into it (Nancy Coates inherited her own fortune) and made far more through entrepreneurship. Coates believed such wealth should be nurtured and passed on. A student of history, he also recognized money's dark side.
COATES possessed Old World sensibilities that shaped his views on issues from global politics to family affairs. He could be dismissive of women, those who know him said. He didn't think much of most men either.
"There are very few men that I have great respect for now," Coates wrote to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a few months before he died. "Greatness is a passing phenomenon . When I see you on the television, I am convinced you have the strength that we are so lacking now."
The letter is similar to others Coates wrote late in life, rambling autobiographical narratives that depict a man of the past intent on controlling the future.
The Liechtenstein trust Coates created in 1986 was the vehicle to accomplish that. Coates named his son, Ben Jr. — listed as vice president of Coates Bros. Co. Inc. on the father's letterhead — to become principal trustee upon his death. Theodate Coates isn't mentioned in the document.
But something happened that changed Benjamin Coates' mind. He had a falling out with his son — no one familiar with the details will say why.
"I just don't think they saw things eye to eye on making a profit, on doing what you're supposed to do, on working a job regularly," said Matthew Dowling, an Oklahoma City attorney who once represented the younger Coates. "Things that a man would expect from his son."
So Coates went looking for a man he could groom for the job.
Coates came to know the Hill family of Texas in the early 1960s after he got into the oil business and bought a home in the blueblood River Oaks neighborhood of Houston.
Al Hill married heiress Margaret Hunt, the first of H.L. Hunt's 14 children from three families, two of which he kept secret for years. The Hunts and Hills were Texas royalty and embodied qualities Coates admired: generational wealth built by shrewd, self-reliant risk-takers.
Hill's 36-year-old grandson, Al Hill III, is a Dallas investor and socialite who married a former Miss Georgia. Hill was 18 when he met Coates.
How the aging billionaire came to consider Hill worthy of managing his holdings — and passing this responsibility to Hill's male heirs — is spelled out in Hill's lawsuit against Theodate Coates, filed in a New York court. (A separate action was filed this week in a Liechtenstein court.)
"I believe it was the second time I met Al III that I realized the marvelous presence the boy presented," Coates wrote to a lawyer representing the Hill family.
Documents cited in the suit show that Coates told business advisors and attorneys to create a company overseeing a new Cayman Islands trust that Hill would be paid handsomely to manage. Theodate was to play a secondary role, the documents show.
Hill's role, Coates wrote, would be "overlooking what women cannot necessarily do properly — lawyers, employees, etc. Nobody would have ever given me the chance that I am suggesting for Al III."
Hill says he and Coates made an oral agreement for Hill to begin managing the Liechtenstein trust and oversee its transfer to the Caribbean. Coates told his attorney to provide "strong incentives" to prevent his children from challenging the new trust, according to a memo between the two.
Hill wants the courts to hand him the keys to Coates' empire and assess monetary damages against Theodate.