Wednesday 21 February 2018

Millionaire who lived like a pauper

A pensioner spent his days looking for change in parking meters but died a rich man, writes Aengus Fanning

For sevens months or so of each year, John Hughes was a daily visitor to the south Dublin swimming sanctuary of Seapoint, where the regulars regarded him as an eccentric scavenger who refused to spend 10 cents if he could avoid it.

John, who hardly ever went for a swim, was looked upon with some amusement because he tested telephone kiosks and parking meters for loose change, picked up used tickets on buses and at bus stations in order to claim refunds, and had a €3 lunch every day in a community centre.

"He was so mean, he had only one holiday, as far as I was aware, in the 30 years I knew him," said a friend. "He kept saying, 'I'll have a holiday next year'. He went to Spain once, and that was that. But he was permanently bronzed by exposure to the weather and the sun."

It was known that he had a good pension -- he had worked for many years as a compositor in Independent Newspapers in Middle Abbey Street -- and that he owned at least two houses.

Many years ago, in the Independent, where he was known as 'Rashers', he lent £200 to a colleague who was in financial difficulty, but he never got the money back -- a lesson he never forgot.

His routine was to spend four nights a week in his Maynooth house, and three in Drumcondra, where he had another property. He took the train (he had a free pass) to town, where he kept six bicycles at different locations. (In his working days, he preferred a motorbike.) He cycled around, checking meters and kiosks for change at St Stephen's Green, Holles Street, Haddington Road and other city streets, had lunch in Crosscare Meals Centre, and took the Dart from the city to Seapoint through spring, summer and autumn.

Then, about 18 months ago, John began to lose weight dramatically, but his friends say he was too mean to get proper medical attention.

Finally, last January, he collapsed while pushing his bike over a railway bridge in Bray, and he died, aged 73, last May in Loughlinstown Hospital. He was unmarried.

Then the rumours at Seapoint really took off.

It was said his estate was worth €6m, that he had owned four houses and had lived his entire life in one suit of clothes.

So when the will was announced a few weeks ago, there was a slight sense of disappointment among the regulars that John had left a mere €1,001,396.

At least, this was a rare instance where it was possible to precisely calculate the degree of exaggeration in a rumour -- a factor of six in this case.

"Everyone in Seapoint liked John," said his friend, "He was a classic case of the millionaire who lived like a pauper. We miss him. And I suppose most of us felt sorry him, for the way he led his life, when he had no need to. It's sad. He couldn't help it."

Sunday Independent

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