$1-Million Gift to City Focuses Attention on Nondescript Motel Dweller
For the last three years, employees at the Leesburg, Va., Best Western Motel knew him merely as Irwin, a quiet, elderly gentleman who lived there with a large dog.
He usually wore a cap, soiled bluejeans and a jean jacket, and town residents often mistook Irwin for a farmer.
So when Irwin Wayne Uran, 71, walked into town hall this month and wrote out a $1-million check, town officials didn’t know what to make of the donation.
“He didn’t seem to be real rich,” said Jewell Emswiller, a Town Council member. “He looked like your next-door neighbor.”
Before depositing the check, town officials quietly began investigating Uran’s background and, to their surprise, discovered that they had one very wealthy man living at their Best Western.
“He’s estimated to be worth between $300 million to $400 million,” said Town Council member Joseph Trocino. “But I don’t want to say too much because I don’t know what kind of visibility he wants.”
Uran may be one of Leesburg’s more eccentric residents as well. “Anyone who has great wealth is eccentric,” he said. “You have to be.”
Uran, who has an average build and looks young for his age, won’t say exactly how much he’s worth. When told of Trocino’s comment, he responded with a smile and said: “I used to be worth $500 million.”
He did say he walked away with about $70 million after taxes last year from the sale of Guardsman Products Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich., a company in which he owned a 32% share.
News reports of the sale said the company sold for $250 million and confirmed that Uran owned 32%.
But Uran says he’s never owned a house, a yacht or many other material things associated with wealth. He has rented apartments or lived in hotels all his adult life.
“My father once said, ‘Don’t invest in real estate,’ and I haven’t,” he said, noting that his money is tied up in stocks. He says his stocks include 2 million shares of Coca-Cola.
Uran says he came from a wealthy family in New York. He says he got his start as a stockbroker and invested all the money he could in the market during the last 50 years. He has kept moving during much of that time, living in Switzerland, Italy and elsewhere. Three years ago, he says, he moved to Leesburg from Santa Clara, Calif., mainly to be closer to the horses he keeps near Upperville and to indulge his interest in Civil War history.
Although he says he’s generally happy, there is one thing he can’t buy and desperately wants: an heir.
Uran, who says he has no children, has placed personal ads in magazines throughout the country. “At this point in my life, pride is expensive,” Uran said. “I’m not embarrassed.”
One ad that ran recently in the San Francisco Bay Guardian begins:
“Wanted: Tall, female, white, well-educated, university graduate, or veterinarian, under 35, extensive knowledge of horses, exotic animals, to be mother of our children, for happy contented life together, by well-educated, wealthy, affectionate, much older man.” He wouldn’t say how many responses he gets.
Part of his desire to build a family late in life, he says, springs from his inability to reconcile with a sister and brother after a fight over their mother’s will.
“It breaks my heart to talk about my family,” Uran said, on the verge of tears. “I enjoy what I do right now, and I’m happy, but there is no social life here. I’m looking to meet someone so I can have children.”
Yvonne Arthur, Uran’s younger sister, who lives in New York, declined to talk about her brother. “Our life is not an open book,” Arthur said. “He gave the money, so he should belabor with it. Let the rest of us out of it.”
The $1-million donation to Leesburg, which Uran says he made because he likes the community, was placed without restrictions but isn’t without controversy.
Uran has filed two lawsuits in Loudoun County Circuit Court in Leesburg, which await trial. One lawsuit involves a dispute over a cat, a goat and horse blankets that Uran wants from a former girlfriend, Laura Nelson.
Nelson, a lawyer who lives in Loudoun County and a former assistant dean of George Mason University’s law school, wouldn’t comment.
Her attorney, Richard R. Saunders, contends that Uran is trying to influence the jury through publicity about his gift. The case is set for trial July 8, and it will be heard by a jury--at Uran’s request.
“I find it all a bit strange and somewhat coincidental,” Saunders said. “Why now? And why the town?”
Uran said he sued because he badly wants the return of the cat, which he says was given to him as a pet, and the goat, which he says he bought for himself.
He also has filed suit against the Middleburg Humane Foundation over the possession of three horses.
He says he loves animals. For recreation, he drives to a farm near Upperville where he boards 40 mustangs, three zebras and two rare donkeys.
He vehemently denies donating money to sway a jury.
“It has nothing to do with it whatsoever,” Uran said, noting that he recently began donating publicly after years of anonymous gifts. “I’ve given all my life, and now I want to come out and take credit for it. I like living here. That’s why I gave.” He also says he wanted to provide an example of giving for people to follow.
Uran said he would like to give away as much of his wealth as possible before he dies, instead of leaving it to a foundation, where “all the money would go to lawyers.”
“Let’s just say the $1 million is just a drop in the bucket,” Uran said during an interview in the motel lobby. “There’s more where that comes from.”
Since publicity of the Leesburg gift, however, Uran has been inundated with telephone calls and faxes from people seeking money. He unplugged the telephone in his room and says he may not publicize future gifts.
The tiny motel room where he has spent the last three years is sparse, with only bare essentials--a bed, a television and a love seat.
In recent months, the small sofa has doubled as a trophy case of sorts, where he has placed plaques and thank-you notes from people and organizations he has helped, including a poster by students at Leesburg Christian School.
“You see, this is my life now,” Uran said.