Ray and Joan Kroc: The Untold Story of the Fast-Food Tycoon’s Family 

Most people know Ray Kroc as the conservative businessman who amassed a fortune from establishing the global fast-food chain, McDonald’s. Most people also know that his wife, Joan Kroc, was a liberal philanthropist who gave away all of her husband’s wealth to charity. However, did you know that Joan was already married when the couple first met and commenced their legendary romance? Did you also know that Ray and Joan Kroc had a turbulent union amidst their enduring passion? Find out more details about Ray and Joan Kroc’s family story below.

How Ray Kroc Became A Fast-Food Tycoon

Raymond Albert Kroc was born on the 5th of October 1902 in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in Oak Park and at the age of 15, enlisted to fight in WWI. The war however ended shortly after he enlisted and he thus did not see any action. Ray Kroc spent much of the 20s and 30s working various jobs including as a jazz pianist and salesman. His fortune, however, turned in 1954 during a routine visit to a San Bernardino restaurant. The restaurant had an innovative/efficient food prep and delivery system which fascinated Kroc. The Chicago native was also impressed by their speed which saw them deliver food orders in just 20 seconds. Kroc quickly obtained a franchise from the restaurant’s owners, Maurice and Richard McDonald. He opened his first McDonalds outlet, in Des Plaines (Illinois) in 1955 and by 1961, bought out the McDonald brothers. Since then, McDonald’s has grown to 7,500 restaurants across 36 countries. The company has sold more than 50 billion hamburgers and is valued at $8 billion.

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Joan Kroc’s Background

Joan Beverly Kroc, nee Mansfield, was born on the 27th of August 1928 in West St Paul, Minnesota. She hailed from a blue-collar working-class background. Her father, Charles Smart Mansfield, worked as a storekeeper, telegraph operator, and salesman. Her mother, Gladys Bonnebelle Mansfield, was an accomplished violinist and music teacher. Joan grew up to become an astute pianist and made her living through her music skills. Prior to her marriage to Ray, Joan was previously married to a man named Rowland F. Smith. Smith was a Navy veteran who eventually set up three McDonald franchises in South Dakota. Joan and Smith got married in 1945 and welcomed their only child, a daughter named Linda, in 1946. The couple would eventually divorce in 1969.

Ray and Joan Kroc
Joan Kroc at a Salvation Army ceremony held on the 23rd of Sept 1998, in San Diego image source

Ray and Joan Kroc’s Marriage

Ray and Joan Kroc first met at an upper-scale restaurant in St Paul, Minnesota, in 1957. The former was there to dine while the latter serenaded diners on a Hammond Organ. Ray was immediately smitten with Joan’s blonde and beautiful looks, as well as her musical dexterity, and started pursuing her. The duo eventually commenced an affair and a few years later, they went off to Vegas so that Joan could divorce her husband and then marry Ray. The lady, however, had a change of heart at the eleventh hour and went back to her family.

Ray and Joan Kroc ran into each other again during a convention in 1969. This time, the dye was cast. The couple went off to Vegas once more, and Joan divorced her husband and married Ray. Marriage, however, turned out to be a different kettle of fish. Rather than bliss, the couple endured a turbulent union and fought several times. Ray reportedly had a violent and ungovernable temper, and this was worsened by alcohol addiction. At one point, Joan got a restraining order against her husband. She also filed for divorce but later called it off and as a result, Ray and Joan Kroc remained married until death did them apart.

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What Happened To Their Wealth?

Ray Kroc died of heart failure on the 14th of January 1984. He was aged 81 years and upon his death, his wife inherited his fortune estimated at $500 million. This fortune would eventually grow to $2.1 billion which Joan utilised to become one of the most generous philanthropists in history. The pianist regularly gave money to people whose story touched her. She also supported the no-nukes movement, AIDs as well as mental health research, etc.

This charitable mindset, however, did not stop Joan from living a lavish lifestyle. She was known to jetpack to several places, including Vegas, where she held marathon gambling sessions with her friends. Joan Kroc died of brain cancer in October 2003. She used her will to make generous donations to several organisations including Salvation Army – $1.6 billion, National Public Radio – $225 million and San Diego Hospice & Palliative Care – $20 million.

Joan received many accolades for her philanthropy including a posthumous induction into the California Hall of Fame in 2009.

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