I’d assured Joe Hardy that his vision for Nemacolin was flat-out nuts. But Joe was as good as his word and over the years Nemacolin blossomed into a first-class destination resort. Joe’s hotel gained Triple A 5-Diamond status, the resort’s wine cellar grew into the largest in Pennsylvania, and his restaurant became the most expensive place to eat in the state (for a while).
The landing strip was lengthened so it could accommodate any private jet in the world and the golf course hosted a regular PGA tournament. Eventually, a casino would be added. One of the many restaurants at Nemacolin is now called “Rockwell’s,” after you-know-who.
One day Joe called me out of the blue and asked an odd question. (I’ve told this story before in these pages – see “Lady Jean Fforde” back in 2020 – but since it’s really about Joe, I’ll re-tell it.)
Joe said to me, “I want to buy a title. You know anything about that?”
By purest coincidence, I’d spent several years working with a remarkable Scottish lady who owned an island and who was in serious financial straits. One idea for raising funds was for Lady Jean to sell one of the many titles she held – Americans, I noticed, seemed to have a limitless appetite for such things. But I never expected that some American billionaire would call me out of the blue wanting a title.
I nearly fell off my chair, but I managed to say, “By ‘title,’ Joe, you mean Sir Joseph of Asquith, something like that?”
“Exactly. I’m working with a broker and he wants me to buy this Japanese title. You know anything about Japanese titles?”
I knew less than nothing about Japanese titles, but I wasn’t about to let a little thing like that stand between Lady Jean and a good bid on her earldom.
“Oh, Joe,” I said, “no, no, no, no, no. You don’t want one of those trashy Japanese titles, people will sneer at you. You want to be called a daimyo? What’re they charging?”
“Two fifty large.”
“Well, there you go, you get what you pay for. No, what you want is one of those terrific European titles, the ones that go back centuries and that make people sit up and take notice.”
“Yeah? What do they cost?”
I told him.
Joe whistled. “That’s a lot of lumber.”
“But worth every inch. You interested or not?”
I explained to Joe that I happened – never mind how – to know of a terrific European title that was going up for auction soon. However, the only way to obtain the title of Lord Joe, Earl of Arran, was to travel to Arran itself, which wasn’t going to be easy, even though Joe had his own private jet, since there was no airport on the island.
If you want to be called Lord Joe, Earl of Arran, you have to own Lochranza Castle and about three hundred acres surrounding it. Today, the castle is a ruin, but, ruin or not, you need to own it to be the Earl. So Lady Jean set up an auction at Lochranza to sell the title, and she set an alarmingly high reserve price.
Meanwhile, Joe, intent on snagging the earldom, had found his way to Arran for the auction. Following up on his coup in snagging Nemacolin at its auction years earlier, Joe managed the Lochranza auction masterfully.
He sat quietly in the back of the hall with his Scottish solicitor and watched the progress of the bidding, not bidding at all himself. There were only two serious bidders, and as the price rose they gradually lost interest. The auctioneer did his best, but eventually he announced that the reserve price had not been exceeded and there would be no sale.
Still, Joe bided his time. He watched as the auctioneer walked to the corner of the room and called Lady Jean to give her the bad news. It was only after the auctioneer hung up that Joe leapt into action.
Joe’s solicitor buttonholed the auctioneer and announced that his client wished to make an offer for the earldom. The confused auctioneer explained that the auction was closed.
“We are not making a bid, sir, we are making an offer. I expect you to communicate it to Lady Jean.”
Joe’s offer was well below the reserve price, but it was also way above the last bid. More important, Joe’s reading of the psychological moment had been perfect. When Lady Jean had gotten the call saying the earldom hadn’t sold, she’d gone into a blue funk. As she told me later, when the phone rang a second time she was in the process of “pouring whisky down my gullet and storming around the living room kicking things.”
But now, when the call came with the new offer, Lady Jean jumped at it and the deal was sealed.
Joe was so pleased with his new title that he bought several more of them over the years, once commissioning a special, extra-large medal documenting one of the titles which he hung above a throne-like chair at Nemacolin. Joe invited me down to see it and we toasted the medal and Joe’s title (for about four hours).
Among other things, Joe’s marital habits were, uh, singular. Late in life he divorced his wife of 51 years to marry a 26-year-old, divorced her to marry a 22-year-old, divorced her to marry a ripe old 51-year-old, and then divorced her to marry…, well, I don’t know how old Joe’s last wife is, but I’ve seen her photo and I can tell you she’s a lot younger than Joe’s daughter.
Joe’s birthday was exactly a week before mine, and we would sometimes get together and celebrate the fact that we’d both squeaked through another year. On one of these occasions I delicately asked Joe about his first divorce. “That one,” I said, “must have been expensive.”
Joe burst out laughing. “That divorce was so expensive,” he said, “I had to change the name of my company to 42 Lumber!”
Joe was larger-than-life and when he died he was almost larger-than-death: he somehow arranged to meet his Maker exactly on his 100th birthday: Joe was born January 7, 1923 and he died January 7, 2023, last month.
Next up: Am I a Bot?
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