DTLA - Almost everyone knows the name of Ray Kroc, the McDonald’s chairman who turned the fledgling burger restaurant into an empire. Far fewer people have heard of his wife, Joan.
Downtown Los Angeles resident Lisa Napoli sets out to change that in her new book Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away (Dutton). It came out Nov. 15.
Napoli, a veteran author and public radio host and reporter, traveled around the country and into more than a few McDonald’s during her research (she notes she did not actually eat at any of them). The book is partly a biography of the couple and partly a money trail showing why Joan Kroc chose to fund peace efforts, public radio and other philanthropic causes.
The book was written in Napoli’s Bunker Hill home. On Jan. 26, she will be speak about Ray & Joan at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. She recently talked with Los Angeles Downtown News about her work and the Krocs.
Los Angeles Downtown News: How did you get interested in this story?
Lisa Napoli: I wasn’t a McDonald’s eater, but I worked in public radio so I was familiar with Joan Kroc’s name. About five years ago I was in Santa Monica on assignment for KCRW. There was this peace sculpture in disrepair and they were struggling with what to do with it. I went to cover it and asked who paid for it in the first place, and this peace activist said it was Joan Kroc who gave the money anonymously. I was intrigued. Why would she give money for a peace sculpture?
Q: Why did Joan Kroc give away the fortune Ray left her?
A: I think Joan’s story is even more interesting than McDonald’s. That’s a very Southern California story of success, but Joan decided to give the money away because she was a hugely compassionate person. She did it gradually over her life, and then at the end when she learned she had terminal brain cancer she made the decision to give it all away. And there was no foundation. The wise thing to do in these situations is put your money in a foundation so it can be donated forever. With Joan Kroc, she just wanted it gone and out and used by people. She was unorthodox in every way like that.
Q: What was the writing process like?
A: It took me five years to write this. I traveled around the country to access records and talk to people. Where you do the research is one thing. Where you sit and write it is another. I’ve lived on Bunker Hill for 13 years and I’m a huge longtime supporter of the Downtown Central Library. I’ve used their resources throughout this process.
Q: What might surprise readers about Joan Kroc?
A: Her first husband, before Ray, actually managed a McDonald’s early on and then got the rights to open a franchise. And she worked with him ordering food. When you hear her name on the radio, you think she was just this rich woman, but she wasn’t. She was involved and working with McDonald’s in the earliest days.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2017