Bravely Stepping Into Breach Between a Mother and Son

Dear Joan Irvine Smith,

We’ve never met, but let me begin by saying I’m one of your greatest admirers. In a world of shrubs, you’re a redwood. You’re a glacier to everyone else’s ice cube, a constellation to their candle, a superhighway to their dusty road, a--well, you get my point, don’t you?

By way of introduction, I’m a writer, but as you can see, not a very good one. Plus, I’m a little nervous, given that you have no idea who I am and that you’re worth several hundred million dollars.

I’m writing to you because I thought you might need some bolstering. I read in the paper this week that you might disinherit your son, Morton, because of his marriage two weeks ago to a woman of whom you disapprove. The article said his decision to marry might cost him up to $100 million.


Your son was quoted as saying he’d rather marry for love than money. His bride, a nurse described as having “working class roots,” agreed.

I want you to know I support your position 100%. Sweet Mother Mary, do I support it.

The self-serving statements of your son and daughter-in-law would be laughable were they not so contemptible. “I did the right thing as far as my heart told me,” your son said. I’m sure those same people who slobbered over “Sleepless in Seattle” or “The Bridges of Madison County” might side with him--and think poorly of you--and that’s why I’m rushing to your defense, even if it means taking an unpopular position.

Pardon my bluntness, Joan (may I call you Joan?), but I deplore what your son has done. He said he hoped the rift could be healed, but considering he went ahead with the marriage knowing how you felt, that sounded awfully hollow to me.

Let me hastily add that I strongly disapprove of her too. True, I’ve never met nor spoken to her (nor your son), but I just feel strongly that I would dislike her--assuming, that is, that you continue to feel that way.

In case you think I’m a nut, let me assure you that I’m not. Many small-minded people who read only about the wedding may not know how great a woman you are, but I do.

They may not know that you are the granddaughter of the founder of the Irvine Co. and one of the richest women in America. They may not realize that you practically forced the Irvine Co. to donate land so that UC Irvine could be built. They probably have no idea how many millions of dollars you’ve donated to charities and other causes. They may not know you’re a connoisseur of art and an accomplished horsewoman. They don’t know that you took on Donald Bren after you sold your Irvine Co. stock and that you refused to be bullied. I should have written to you then to tell you I was pulling for you all the way.

Joan, I know how strong-willed you are. I know you were christened Athalie Anita but decided as a child to call yourself Joan after a nursery rhyme character. I know you’ve been married and divorced four times. I know you’ve fished for marlin off the Mexican coast and hunted big game in Argentina. I know you once nursed an ailing seal back to health in your back yard pool and then lassoed the animal on one occasion when it escaped down the street.


You’ve been described in articles as greedy, litigious and eccentric. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A close friend said years ago that you had tremendous native intelligence and artistic ability but had been given “very much, too much, too young.”

You and I both know there are a lot of jealous people in the world, Joan.

I won’t take any more of your time. I just didn’t want you to lose sleep over your ingrate son. I’m sure it pains you to ponder cutting him out of his millions.


Knowing you as I do, I sense a void in your life, Joan. You had some millions to give to a son, and he betrayed you. I hate him for that.

Joan, you may think I’m silly, but do you think I could in any way replace him? I mean, I know I’m too old to be your son, but what I lack in bloodlines I could make up for in empathy and eternal support of everything you do.

On my oath, I would never buck your wishes. Should you ever get to the point of considering me worthy of your inheritance, I would marry whomever you told me to. Or, if you didn’t think I should marry at all, I wouldn’t. If you want me to renounce any members of my family, just say so.

Please think about it. I think you’d like me if you got to know me. Let me just say again that I think you’re brilliant and unique and misunderstood and such a cut above everyone else that I know you must get awfully bored with the world.


Maybe we could meet for a drink?

Naturally, I’ll buy.

Your new pal (I hope),



Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.