You can find out more about my next book, now titled The Silver Swan: Searching for Doris Duke, on my dedicated Doris Duke bibliography page.
Doris Duke may have struggled with it—impossible to tell, now, although as a woman with well-developed philanthropic interests, she must at least have wondered if her generosity, in all its forms, could ever compensate for the destructive effects of nicotine addiction.
Tobacco was the basis of her fortune. That a large part of her inheritance consisted of stock in the Duke Power Company never seemed to affect the impression of ill-gotten gains; and the saying, “All great fortunes are founded on a crime” could not have been very comforting.
How to square her love for James Buchanan Duke, the father who adored her, with his role as the perfector of machine-rolled cigarettes and chief publicist for their worldwide spread? How to justify her money, even though it allowed her to create the Center for Islamic Studies in Hawaii and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation—among many other contributions
The painful struggles of some descendants of the Sackler family to separate themselves from the tragedies of opioid addiction bring these questions to my mind. Their enormous philanthropic gifts, especially to the arts, cannot balance the harm of what their company produced, and conscientious heirs, living off that fortune, must find themselves in an unresolvable moral quandary.
And yet, how can we be responsible for, or even understand, the actions of those who went before us? “Buck” Duke grew up in serious poverty in the post-Civil War tobacco fields of central North Carolina. He saw his stepmother die, his half-brother so starved he only weighed 100 pounds as an adult (and for that reason was excused from active military service). To prevent that kind of calamity from overtaking relatives, friends, and especially his cherished only child, must have seemed to outweigh considerations of public health-that is, the health of people he never knew. He forbade his wife to smoke, and Doris apparently never did, but he himself indulged in specially made cigars which did not seem to imperil his robust health.
It’s possible to see some value in his rationalization: People have always smoked and will always smoke and an entrepreneur who fails to take advantage of this is a fool.
In the end, love may matter more than consequences, the love Buck expressed in letters to his little daughter, when he told her he expected her to become a fine lady and would do everything in his power to assure that outcome.
And a fine lady she did become, perhaps only possible for a woman who lives with some degree of denial.