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How great grandson is keeping Carnegie's legacy alive; DIRECT DESCENDANT OF THE WORLD'S RICHEST MAN OVERCAME TRAGEDY TO HELP OTHERS.

AS the great-grandson of the richest man in the world, William Thomson is well acquainted with the power of money.

But he also knows better than most that wealth cannot prevent tragedy.

For the first time, the direct descendant of billionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie has revealed the tragedy that blighted his family.

When William was eight months old, his mother, Louise - Andrew's grand-daughter - contracted polio.

And all the gold in the world could do nothing to prevent the death of a beautiful young woman.

"I don't remember my mother," William said quietly last week. "I'm told she was a strong character, full of life.

"I was her last child. There were five of us and had she not died, she wanted to have three more.

"She was 27. There was a polio epidemic and she died in hospital near Skibo Castle, Sutherland.

"You can't really describe how it devastated the family. All the children were under seven and my father was nearly 50 years old. I don't know how he coped."

The bereavement in his infancy left its mark on William, now a 53-year-old devoted father-of-four, who lives in Perthshire.

It also meant his grandmother, Margaret, became the mother-figure in his life. She was Carnegie's only child, and being brought up by her gave William a unique insight into the life of the legendary tycoon.

The consequence was that William, the recently-appointed head of the Carnegie UK Trust - the first direct descendant to be put in charge - had much closer links to his legendary great-grandfather than he might otherwise have had.

Andrew Carnegie was born into poverty in Dunfermline in 1835 and emigrated to America in 1848. From a bobbin-boy in a mill, he rose to become the greatest entrepreneur of his day, controlling a quarter of U.S. steel production. By 1901, when he sold up for pounds 300million, he was the world's richest man.

Carnegie wrote The Gospel of Wealth, in which he said 'the man who dies rich, dies disgraced'. He then proceeded to give away his fortune, creating halls, libraries, and education and peace foundations.

He set up the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Holland, and dreamed up the League of Nations. His influence on modern literacy, art and culture is unquantifiable.

University students, the disabled, village halls, Nobel Laureates, pension funds, pre-school playgroups - all were endowed by Carnegie.

He married late to Louise, the daughter of one of his American railroad friends, and they had Margaret - named after Carnegie's own mother. William said: "Margaret had a very big influence on my sisters and myself.

"My grandmother followed the tradition set by her father and crossed the Atlantic every summer to spend five months in Skibo Castle.

"Andrew Carnegie had bought Skibo and extended the existing house.

"He didn't want children. It wasn't until his mother died, when he was 52, that he married a woman who was at least 15 years younger than him. But she suffered depression and the doctors felt having children would help her.

"So they had Margaret, my grandmother. After my mother died, we used to spend summers with Margaret at Skibo. I remember my grandmother very well. She was quiet, gentle, but very generous and sweet-minded and full of fun. An immensely loving person.

"She was not a disciplinarian. I don't ever remember a word of rebuke from her."

William is aware that great men cast shadows from which their children and grandchildren find it hard to escape - and even though Andrew Carnegie was only 5ft 2in, he cast the shadow of a giant.

"It's true the children who follow great men rarely achieve as much. Who knows what creates people and forms them? It is interesting to ponder on how different life might have been had he not been who he was... or if my mother had lived. I try not to make a big thing of our heritage to my children."

William, who runs a finance company called Braveheart Ventures, is married to Tina, 43, and has four children - Emma, 20, Elizabeth, 18, Alice, 12 and Charlie, 10.

Ironically, William followed the Carnegie trend of marrying someone younger. Tina is 10 years his junior and she and William were childhood friends in Sutherland.

The couple have a modest farmhouse in Perthshire and an estate in Sutherland - but no Carnegie-funded lottery lifestyle.

William explained: "My great-grandfather didn't agree with leaving a great amount of money to his family. He left them enough to survive, but not enough to be extravagant."

None of Carnegie's descendants has anything resembling the kind of lifestyle the King of Steel had at the end of the 1800s. Every summer, the tycoon and his family would cross the Atlantic and spend several months by the sea at Skibo Castle.

The great house was always full of guests, even Royalty. "I think King Edward VII came for tea but I don't think he stayed the night. There is no King's bedroom," said William.

"Scotland was Andrew Carnegie's spiritual home. He was very Scottish. The style at Skibo was not opulent. It was well done, but it was not flash. Not The Great Gatsby, and certainly no fountains spewing out champagne. I don't think that's in the Scottish psyche."

William expresses a fierce pride at being responsible now for the pounds 1million the Carnegie UK Trust distributes every year.

"It's important. Our work extends into so many different fields. It is enormously interesting, challenging stuff.

"The fact it's something created by a forebear makes it even more of a responsibility.

"When I think of my great grandfather, I think first and foremost of his philanthropy. He gave away the equivalent of more than pounds 2 billion today to good causes.

"He didn't give to the poor. He gave to ideas and ventures, he wanted his money to work.

"In the trust today, we try to use the money just as shrewdly, to make it work and grow.

"I think Andrew Carnegie would have been enormously pleased with the trusts.

"When I think of him, I see a small man wearing tweed with a very large checks . There was a family joke that if the checks got any larger then he'd only need one and half checks to make an entire suit."

And William, aware of the mixed blessings of being descended from such a legend, gives a quick smile and admits: "It would have been nice to have met him, wouldn't it?"

King of steel gave away fortune worth pounds 2billion

ANDREW CARNEGIE was the Bill Gates of his day - a pocket battleship, a little man from Dunfermline who wielded more power than any world leader.

His rags-to-riches story is one of the most amazing ever.

Aged 14, poverty drove him out of Scotland to America in 1848, the 'hungry 40s', where he got a mill job and worked his way up, applying his sharp brain to business.

Within eight years, working in a railroad office, he was investing money.

Shrewd moves and ruthlessness kept the cheques rolling in. Soon, he was the King of Steel, controlling a quarter of US steel. When he retired in 1901, at 65, he was the world's richest man.

In the next 13 years he gave away most of it - nearly pounds 2billion at today's values.

"The man who dies rich dies disgraced", he said. So he set up various trusts in the early 20th century. One of his main beneficiaries was the Carnegie UK Trust, which today distributes pounds 1million a year to a range of projects from assets of pounds 37 million.

In areas such as jobs for older people, arts and the disabled and the well-being of children, the trust has set agendas for governments to follow.

Their Third Age initiative, focusing on the benefits to people, aged 50 to 74, has provided New Labour with policies.

They fund programmes where older people act as mentors or business angels for people starting their working lives.

And the trust is involved in parenting, especially fathering. In Scotland, they back projects for unmarried fathers and stepfathers.

They also actively help young people. All projects which Carnegie would have approved of.

As an old man, soon before he died in 1919, he wrote: "My chief happiness is to continue to benefit humanity for generations untold."
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 11, 2000
Previous Article:Michael's a classroom swot at 74.

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