Jane Bradley Pettit had spent $90 million on the Bradley Center, giving Milwaukee a state-of-the-art sports facility named after her adopted father. Milwaukee was struggling to shrug off its rust belt image and the new arena guaranteed that the city would remain in the big leagues. By any measure, it was an extraordinary gift. “No one ever gives anything to the middle class,” one business leader remarked. But Jane did.
Now Pettit was contemplating spending $50 million in 1993 to buy a professional hockey team. At her secluded home in River Hills – a home abutting the property where her father lived in his early days at the helm of the Allen-Bradley Company, the corporate success responsible for her largess – she huddled with her lawyer, the late attorney Joseph E. Tierney Jr., and Phil Whitliff, now general manager of the Milwaukee Admirals. They were discussing her application for a National Hockey League franchise, but the news wasn’t good. Given the way the NHL provided players for new teams, it would be five years before the city could hope to have a winning team. Pettit worried that Milwaukeeans wouldn’t back such a team.
When her personal phone rang, she excused herself to take the call. “Oh, hi, honey,” Whitliff recalls her saying. “I’d be just delighted to do that.” When she hung up, she turned to her attorney. “I’m going to sponsor my grandson in a book-a-thon, $1 a book. I hope that’s okay.”
The vignette reveals much about the city’s greatest philanthropist. No matter how large the undertaking, her family came first, and like many women of her generation, she showed a great deference, even in minor matters, to the men who advised her. And, of course, there was her interest in Milwaukeeans in general. In the end, she withdrew her NHL application, leaving league officials fit to be tied but moved enough by her explanation that future teams got better draft picks.
In 1999, Worth magazine ranked Jane Pettit 27th among America’s most generous philanthropists, with $165 million in gifts. But that didn’t count the donations she made anonymously and through two smaller foundations, says her attorney, Fran Croak. Between 1985, when Bradley Center construction began, and the end of 2000, Jane Pettit gave Milwaukee gifts totaling more than $250 million. “[Meatpacker] Frederick Layton was the reigning champ of philanthropists in 19th century Milwaukee, but, adjusted for inflation, she leaves Fred in the dust,” says local writer John Gurda, who wrote The Bradley Legacy. “If you went to replace everything” that Jane and her parents, Harry and Peg Bradley, gave to Milwaukee, “it would cost three-quarters of a billion dollars,” speculates Ted Hutton, retired Allen-Bradley director of government and community relations.
But then, how do you put a price on the things Jane Pettit has done? What is the value of 54 newly trained special-education teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools, a district chronically short of such teachers? Or $4 million for a pain clinic at Children’s Hospital? A neonatal intensive-care facility at St. Joseph’s Hospital that has helped save thousands of young lives? An after-school program that keeps kids productively occupied and neighborhoods safe? Her $20 million gift to build the Lynde and Harry Bradley Technical High School is well known. But what about her support for a handful of grade schools, “all models for educating urban children and involving their families,” says Mary Louise Mussoline, program officer of the Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation. Then there are the millions given to enhance the city’s cultural life, to environmental education and preservation, $1.4 million to the YWCA for programs that help lift women and children out of poverty.
If cities have guardian angels, Jane Bradley Pettit was Milwaukee’s. But she was an immensely private person. Nearly three years ago, when Milwaukee Magazine first approached her to do this story, she demurred. This past summer, she agreed to cooperate on this article as she lay dying of lung cancer. Her only purpose: to give the city one more gift, her story, that it might inspire others to philanthropy. She died September 9.
“The other day, someone referred to my mother as a saint,” Jane’s daughter, Lynde Uihlein, said in August. “That dismisses her humanity.” And it lets would-be philanthropists excuse themselves because they’re no Jane Bradley Pettit. Jane wouldn’t have wanted that. In the Bradley family, and the Lynde family that came before it, a local lineage older than the city itself, philanthropy was almost genetic. The sense of civic responsibility came from the Lyndes, but the money to demonstrate it on a grand scale came from the Bradleys. That the money was made in Milwaukee shaped Jane Pettit’s desire to spend it here. (Only a handful of the 125 gifts she made in 2000 were not. See milwaukeemagazine.com for a list of her 2000 contributions.) But that was only one of the things that shaped the evolution of the city’s greatest philanthropist.
Portraits of William Pitt Lynde and Mary Elizabeth Blanchard Lynde stared down at young Jane from the living room wall. She never knew her adoptive father’s grandparents, yet they would influence her life in ways she could not imagine.
The Lyndes had arrived in the Wisconsin Territory as newlyweds in 1841, five years before Milwaukee was born. Their credentials were impressive: William had graduated Yale’s valedictorian, then studied law at Harvard. Mary had graduated as valedictorian of Emma Willard School and won first prize for composition at The Albany Female Academy.
In Milwaukee, William formed a law practice, the predecessor of the oldest and largest firm in the state today, Foley and Lardner. After only three years, President James K. Polk appointed him, at age 27, attorney general of the Wisconsin Territory. The next year, he rose to U.S. attorney for the Wisconsin district, and after helping pass the state constitution in 1848, he represented Wisconsin in Congress. Identified with most of the important litigation tried in Wisconsin, he was, by 1860, mayor of Milwaukee. When his term was marred by the sinking of the Lady Elgin, a tragedy that killed most of the city’s politically active Irish, Mary Lynde marshaled relief efforts. It was only natural. She had already overseen organization of the city’s charities, founded its first orphanage and, through her philanthropy, helped to create a residential facility for older orphan girls. Her essays on the humane treatment of criminals and the insane gave her national prominence, and Gov. Lucius Fairchild made her the first woman in the United States to hold a political appointment, on the first state Board of Charities and Reform.
But the Lynde empathy was not solely Mary’s purview. An abolitionist, William had aided the first runaway slave to escape via the Underground Railroad to Milwaukee. When Milwaukee’s poor Germans were drafted during the Civil War, he raised $300 per man to pay mercenaries in their stead, saving their families from certain destitution at the loss of their means of support. By the 1860s, the Lyndes were materially, as well as morally, successful, and they moved their six children into an 18-room Gothic Revival mansion on a bucolic 35-acre wooded estate. William toured the world with daughter Clara and met the heir to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) throne. Still smitten with Clara seven years later, King Kalakaua, 38, made a pilgrimage to Milwaukee in 1875 to ask for her hand. Instead, Clara married Henry Clayton Bradley, a “dealer in paper rags” and wholesale notions who closed his business before the wedding. A transplant from upstate New York like her father, Henry was, at age 50, 20 years Clara’s senior.
Henry whisked his bride off to New York, then to San Francisco. But by 1878, the couple was back in Milwaukee, living with her parents when their first son was born. Clara honored her parents by naming him Lynde. The Bradley family moved to Kansas City, where Henry took over as president of the Kansas City Paper Company. By the time their second son, Harry Lynde Bradley, was born, Henry was 60 years old, Clara 41. Still vibrant, they were giving birth to inventions as well. She patented long underwear for women; Henry, an insulating material for paper bailers. Clara Bradley’s name became the “B” in BVDs.
When her beloved father died in 1885, Clara inherited $12,300 ($224,000 in 2000 dollars). She would need it. By 1891, Henry could no longer support his family. Clara returned to Milwaukee, moving into a large house at what is now 1619 N. Prospect Ave. There, she took in borders and her own mother to make ends meet. Lynde and Harry were only 13 and 6, but it was as if their father had died. As adults, they refused to discuss Henry Bradley. (Harry even told his adopted son years later that his grandfather had died in Kansas.)
When their grandmother, Mary Lynde, died in 1897, the Milwaukee Sentinel said no woman in Wisconsin had been “more conspicuously active… for the benefit of others.” At ages 19 and 12, the Bradley boys were old enough to understand the Lynde legacy and their own reversal of fortune. By 1902, Clara was forced to sell the rambling house on Prospect and move to a modest flat Downtown. Just before Thanksgiving, the Sentinel reported the reclusive Henry’s death.
Oddly, the article was riddled with what – in the presence of other evidence – appear to be serious factual errors. It understated Henry’s age by 17 years. It elevated the late William Pitt Lynde to chief justice, one of the few political posts he never held. It said the family had recently moved to be near its “business interests” and that Lynde “recently graduated from college.” Lynde had dropped out of high school after a year and a half to get a job. Did the article reflect one of the Bradley boys’ efforts to put a better “spin” on the situation? There is no way of knowing, but the story definitely did not reflect the official record. Inside the same issue, a routine obituary recorded Bradley’s true age, “77 years, 3 months and 22 days,” and where he’d died: the Milwaukee County Insane Asylum.
Henry’s death certificate said he’d died of senile dementia. His illness, most likely Alzheimer’s disease, had taken a serious toll.
The Lynde family had been well educated, but now, that was a frill the Bradleys could no longer afford. Like his brother, Harry dropped out of high school to work.
Electricity was the technological frontier in 1893 when 15-year-old Lynde Bradley borrowed a text on the subject and built a carbon-piled rheostat to control the speed of a small lathe. The book dealt with rheostats in telephone transmitters, but Lynde was thinking of industrial applications, and to learn more, he took a correspondence course.
At age 20, he opened Milwaukee’s first X-ray business. There he met an orthopedic surgeon named Stanton Allen, who became a friend and father figure. (In the years before protective lead aprons, Lynde and Harry unwittingly exposed themselves to harmful radiation, one reason, later biographers theorize, neither fathered any children.) In 1900, Lynde closed his business in favor of a job as a “tester, erector and trouble shooter” for a motor manufacturer. There, his proposal for a new control fell on deaf ears, but not with Dr. Allen, who advanced him $1,000 ($17,393 in 2000 dollars) so he could quit his job and build a model. When Lynde received his first patent on March 31, 1903, his clothes were threadbare. He had put every penny into his invention.
Lynde and Dr. Allen founded the Compression Rheostat Company. By 1910, Lynde was focusing on research and design and Harry was handling sales, personnel and financial affairs. Dr. Allen’s health was failing and they bought him out, hiring Fred Loock, a super salesman who became the last leg of the three-legged stool that would become the Allen-Bradley Co.
In 1912, Lynde married his secretary, Caroline Doll. Five years earlier, Harry had married his childhood sweetheart, Marion Becher. By the 1920s, new markets for radio and automobile controls tripled AB’s size. The brothers soon turned their financial success into a brand of corporate welfare that would have made the Lyndes proud. They opened a company medical department that grew to the size and sophistication of a small hospital, offering annual exams, prenatal care, psychological counseling and treatment for alcoholism. AB provided classes in physics and electricity, an employee cafeteria, reading room and fitness center, and eventually, a touring orchestra, a social director to oversee 100 clubs – from photography to gardening – an athletic director for the plant’s 100 sports teams and dance and drama coaches.
Behind all of the innovations were two brothers so opposite that it was difficult to believe they were related. Lynde was quiet and contemplative, a disarmingly humble and extremely courteous inventive genius who rarely socialized with anyone except his wife. Years after he could afford any accommodations in the city, Lynde and his wife remained in their tiny newlywed apartment. Harry, a dapper dresser, loved luxury and socializing – even with the janitors. He was fond of the performing arts, big bands and dancing and an elaborate Christmas party where Santa gave employees’ children sleds and cameras.
In 1924, Marion sued Harry for desertion. They divorced January 27, 1925. Marion took the son and daughter they’d adopted as infants and moved to California. Harry had little contact with them afterward. In the first quarter of 1926, he married Margaret “Peg” Blakney Sullivan, a divorcee with a young daughter named Margaret Jane.
The Depression would test the brothers’ commitment to the Lynde tradition of caring for others. AB was one of the last Milwaukee companies to cut wages and hours. Harry and Lynde kept workers busy painting the plant, but by 1932, sales had dropped by two-thirds. The Bradleys slashed their own pay by as much but decided no employee would take a pay cut without getting paper stock equal to the amount of wage cuts. When some employees had a rough time, the Bradleys reached into their own pockets and bought back their stock. Lynde and Harry eventually repaid all of the back wages, plus 6 percent interest. “Their actions earned them employee loyalty that served for the next 60 years. Retirees told me a thousand times, when the going got tough, they took care of us,” says former AB community relations director Hutton.
On Valentine’s eve 1933, the Bradleys’ mother, Clara, died, owing AB more than $8,000 for her medical and household expenses. She left behind a broken $2 watch and $100 for her nurse and some railroad bonds, but her most important legacy was the Lynde tradition. “Harry would do incredible things for people on an anonymous basis,” says Hutton. Yet “he was uncomfortable if even one person tried to say thank you,” radio host Bob Siegrist said in eulogizing Harry years later.
With World War II’s government contracts, wealth flowed into AB, but in 1941, Lynde was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Because he rarely drank, it may have been from years of exposure to radiation and chemicals in the laboratory. A patient at St. Luke’s Hospital, he asked to return to the company to see the just-completed gymnasium complex. With an IV in his arm and a tear in his eye, he whispered, “I’m glad we built this for our employees.”
Lynde’s estate was worth $1.5 million ($16.33 million in 2000 dollars). He left his 51 percent of AB to Harry. The Bradley brothers had always felt the company would prosper best if it were privately owned, not subject to the short-term financial interests of shareholders.
At the time, Harry and Peg had three houses, including a 40-acre weekend estate off of Brown Deer Road in River Hills, a beach home in Naples, Florida, and a penthouse atop the factory on Greenfield Avenue. The latter offered a sky-lit octagonal room with natural grass and a washing mechanism for Monsieur Dufy, the Bradleys’ poodle. The Bradleys’ extravagance left them ill-prepared for inheritance taxes. Harry resisted the suggestion that he sell the company, but the stress contributed to a mild heart attack. He insisted upon recuperating at the plant, and his office became a hospital room.
Harry’s attorney finally resolved the tax problem in 1945. A third of Lynde’s stock was sold to the company, providing enough cash to pay inheritance taxes, while a unique trust agreement put ownership of Harry’s stock into the five Bradley Trusts. The five AB executives Harry trusted most would oversee the trusts, with dividends going to Harry’s heirs: 40 percent to his wife, Peg; 20 percent to his adopted daughter, Jane; 20 percent to Margaret Loock, company President Fred Loock’s wife, and 10 percent each to Harry’s adopted children from his first marriage, Marion Bradley Via and Harry Bradley Jr. In 1951, Lynde’s widow, Caroline, put the 17 percent of the company she’d received in probate into three additional trusts, giving the trustees control over practically all of AB’s voting stock. The trustees had two missions: Run the company as Harry wished and see to the best interests of the beneficiaries.
Fulfilling Lynde’s request, Harry and Caroline formed the Allen-Bradley Foundation (now the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation), which focused its philanthropy on local hospitals, medical research, higher education, charitable organizations like the Boys’ Club and the “encouragement of art and prevention of cruelty to children or animals.” The foundation was, “in a sense, Allen-Bradley’s corporate culture applied to the larger community,” observes historian Gurda. (When Margaret Loock and Caroline Bradley died, their trusts [22 percent of AB] went to the AB Foundation.)
Harry named Loock AB president in 1947, and although he became chairman, Harry still reported to work every day, overseeing construction of a new employee cafeteria as elaborate as the Ritz-Carlton’s in New York. Part of the Bradley philosophy had always been that employees should recharge at work. Mandatory breaks sent them to the lounge or reading room.
Harry Bradley would tap workers on the shoulder and take their place on the assembly line. Late one night, he came upon Ron Fruncek, a young messenger, filing purchase orders. Bradley asked him why he was working so late. “I told him I had an engineering exam the next day and I would not be at work,” says Fruncek. “Harry said, ‘Well, let me finish that up,’ and he sent me home to study.” Adds Fruncek, who retired in 1997 after 40 years: “You had a loyalty to the man and his ideas. They didn’t have shareholders, so they plowed the money back into the company. If he wanted me to work for nothing for a while, I would have done that.”
Harry earned his last patent, his 29th, in 1959. That was three more than his brother Lynde had earned. He’d become a backer of an Otto Preminger Broadway play, an outspoken advocate for the free-enterprise system and individual liberty and an ardent anti-Communist. He brought in prominent right-wing politicians to lecture workers and filled his library with books like Communist Socialist Propaganda in American High Schools, The Life of John Birch and McCarthyism, the Fight for America.
By 1960, the company stood alongside GE and Westinghouse, holding more than 20 percent of the electrical control market. In 1964, AB employed 6,600 and had $101 million in sales. But that spring, “Harry Bradley began to slip away,” in the words of Gurda’s history. “He became increasingly obstreperous and irrational, firing longtime employees, arguing with close friends.… Harry’s condition became so acute that on June 30, 1960, “he was removed from his office to a sanitarium.”
Harry was diagnosed with hardening of the arteries; in all likelihood, it was the same Alzheimer’s disease that disabled his father. His daughter, Jane, would visit him at the sanitarium with her teenage daughter. “I was his granddaughter, but I was kind of irrelevant,” remembers Lynde Uihlein. “He was so glad to see my mother… those visits must have been just torture for her, because she loved him so much and she could not do what he was asking. It was never, ‘Take me home.’ It was always, ‘Take me to the factory.’ ”
Harry’s “mono-mania” with the factory lasted until he died five years later. By then, he and Peg were considered major local philanthropists and the Milwaukee Art Museum’s most important benefactors. He left an estate worth $1.2 million ($6.76 million in 2000 dollars), most of it in stocks and bonds, plus a 1960 Jeep Willy valued at $700, a 1934 Ford truck worth $50, four paintings appraised at $775 and clothing and personal effects worth $493. His most treasured possession, Allen-Bradley, had already been transferred to the trusts.
A number of men followed Harry as CEO, but none was as powerful as I. Andrew (Tiny) Rader, the man who made AB an international force. Rader reached mandatory retirement age in 1980, but he did not go quietly. Forced out, he launched a failed coup attempt. Rebuffed by the board of directors, he turned to his duties as head of the Bradley trustees and, The Wall Street Journal speculated, decided that “if he could not run the independent company himself, no one would.”
Jaws dropped in October 1984 when the trustees announced that AB was for sale. Everyone knew the Bradleys had wanted their company to remain privately held. The trust document said as much, although it also outlined what would happen in the event of a sale, says attorney Croak. For some time, Jane Pettit’s attorney, Tierney, had been lobbying the trustees for more income. “For a long time, my grandmother [Peg] and my mother [Jane] thought they were entitled to greater income,” says Lynde Uihlein, “but rather than pass the dividends on to the heirs, the trustees reinvested them in the company.” AB had grown to 15,500 employees in the process, with annual sales of $1 billion and profits of $90 million.
Rader and his fellow trustees said they were concerned about the tremendous cost of keeping the company ahead of competitors. They were afraid one of the trust beneficiaries, Jane in particular, might sue. And there was a sense that the company’s value had peaked. One of the trustees, Jane’s former husband, David V. Uihlein Sr., was an heir to the Schlitz Brewing Company and had seen his family’s firm sell for a fraction of its high value. He feared the same thing might happen to AB. The Wall Street Journal attributed Jane’s support for the sale to a desire for “greater income for her husband [Lloyd], who would not share in distributions from the Allen-Bradley trusts if his spouse died first.”
Goldman, Sachs & Co. valued the company at just over $1 billion. Several bidders appeared, including a management group, but they were blown out of the water by a $1.65 billion offer from Pittsburgh’s Rockwell International Corp. No privately held U.S. corporation had ever sold for so much. In general, when an out-of-state company purchases a local firm, it has a negative impact on local philanthropy. But never before had there been a Jane Pettit. With her own trust, plus the half of her mother’s she’d inherited, Jane’s AB stock was worth $597 million. The separate Bradley Foundation grew to more than $290 million. Jane and her then husband, Lloyd “Bud” Pettit, immediately announced that they would build Milwaukee a new sports and entertainment arena.
Pettit said she’d made her $90 million gift of the Bradley Center for two reasons: so that Milwaukeeans would develop “tremendous respect for a man [Harry Bradley] who cared so much for the people who worked for him,” and second, to show her gratitude to him for “a wonderful childhood.” Bradley had indeed changed the course of Jane’s life.
Margaret Jane Sullivan was born October 29, 1918 to Dwight “Chuck” Sullivan and Margaret “Peg” Blakney, the only daughter of John Blakney, a successful ex-Canadian businessman who’d moved to Milwaukee’s East Side. Sullivan appeared successful, too. In 1919-1920, city directories listed him as president of the Milwaukee Oakland Company, but by 1923, Sullivan was a car salesman. Each passing year found him working for another employer. Alcoholism was taking its toll, family sources say, and although city directories still show Peg as Sullivan’s wife in 1926, she had moved in with her father and stepmother and filed for divorce. Peg took a job as a stenographer at North Avenue Bank.
“Peg taught dance. She was quite sexy and she wasn’t above flirting with her best friend’s husband, and her best friend was Marion Becher Bradley,” one of Peg’s old friends told a writer in the 1980s. Family legend has it that Peg, a “quixotic, determined” 30-year-old “possessed of a tenacious Irish nature” (according to Wisconsin Women: A Gifted Heritage) “stole” 41-year-old Harry from his first wife. In the first quarter of 1926, AB’s newsletter, “The Gossip,” revealed that Peg and Harry had “snuck off” to Illinois and married. Jane was 7. “Peg and Harry were extraordinarily different,” says Jane’s daughter Lynde. “I think Harry loved Peg’s pizzazz, being dragged down the streets of New York. It was kind of, ‘She’s got style and I love her style, but I’d rather be at the factory.’ ”
After the divorce, at Peg’s urging, Jane’s father, Dwight Sullivan, signed away his parental rights to Jane. He moved to Chicago in 1928, where he was later struck by a car and killed. Except for occasional visits from Uncle Allen Sullivan, Jane had little contact with the Sullivan clan. Harry Bradley adopted Peg’s daughter, legally changing her name from Margaret Sullivan to Jane Bradley and ushering in a magical childhood. Mary Kasten, one of Jane’s classmates beginning in kindergarten, recalls the extravagant birthday parties Peg and Harry threw for Jane on the company’s roof. When young Jane was stricken with a serious illness, Peg Bradley feared she would lose her daughter the way she’d lost her mother a few years earlier during the great influenza outbreak. When Peg’s prayers were answered and Jane recovered, Peg became a devout Christian Scientist.
The Bradleys sent Jane to the schools popular with Milwaukee’s upper crust: the Lake School for Girls, Milwaukee Downer Seminary and University School, where, says Jane’s pal and neighbor, Patsy Pabst, “We were average students, more interested in our social life than in our studies.” Before Jane was old enough to drive, she and Patsy would “take ‘Peggy Hiccup,’ the Bradleys’ old bright-yellow Chevy with the red plastic upholstery, and head off across the back roads of River Hills” looking for a hollow where they could park the car and smoke. “We’d smoke with our gloves on, hoping that when we took our gloves off, our parents would never know,” remembers Pabst.
“Jane was a party girl for a long time. She just loved a good time and she had a great sense of humor,” says her only female first cousin, Barbara Blakney Brumder. Jane’s life was a whirl of shopping trips and parties. Her mother began hanging the art she’d collected – Picasso, Chagall, Degas and others – at their converted River Hills farmhouse. “Harry Bradley was very traditional, and he believed old family portraits should be hung in the home. As Peg’s enthusiasm for art grew, they were taken down, and Mr. Bradley rebelled. The old portraits went back on the walls,” explained one history of Peg’s collecting. “Mrs. Bradley was not a woman to accept a return to the past… and with her inexhaustible energy… the modern paintings returned.”
Peg’s art purchases were made “not by careful study but by… spontaneous reaction to a painting,” said Tracy Atkinson, then director of the Milwaukee Art Center. “Mrs. Bradley is an instinctive collector. She can afford to be. She has a flawless eye for quality.” Eventually, Harry grew to appreciate the art, but when Peg decided to give a significant piece to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he vetoed the gift. “We made our money in Milwaukee,” he said, “and our art is going to be left to Milwaukee.” It was one of the rare times Harry put his foot down with Peg, and Jane took his message to heart. Years later, when Peg was asked why she gave her collection to the Milwaukee Art Museum, she said, “My husband was a do-gooder and it just plain rubbed off on me.… My real motive was to do this for him.” That, too, would rub off on Jane.
Peg brought haute couture to Milwaukee at Zita’s and the other women’s specialty shops she owned here, and Jane was always impeccably dressed. Harry Bradley had named his River Hills estate “Lynden” after William Lynde’s 1860s estate, and like its predecessor, it had a man-made lake large enough to include an island. “Lynden” became a mecca for Jane’s friends, with its tennis court, lake and the picnic lunch and chocolate cake Peg Bradley always made sure her staff provided. Jane was “a knockout,” say her friends, and there was no shortage of beaus. The Bradley living room became a dance school, where Harry taught his daughter and her friends the latest steps. “Other friends had parties, but none of them were like Jane’s atop the plant,” says Pabst.
Harry was an agnostic, but with their daughter’s socialization well in hand, the Bradleys decided to nurture Jane’s religious and academic side by sending her to a Christian Science boarding school, Principia High School in St. Louis. From there, she went to Finch Junior College in New York City, a finishing school that attracted the daughters of many wealthy Milwaukeeans. Harry and Peg would come for weekend visits and take the whole group out to dinner. Jane majored in drama, studied privately with Elia Kazan and did summer stock in the Hamptons and Oconomowoc. “I think my mother ideally would have lived a much more stimulating life. She needed a couple more years in New York,” says Lynde Uihlein. Jane didn’t get them, she confessed to a friend, because her parents thought she “liked the boys too much,” and they brought her home.
One of her beaus, Huntington Hartford, heir to the A&P fortune, son of an industrialist who invented the shock absorber, and himself a financier and patron of the arts, followed Jane back to Milwaukee. But in the rarefied circle the stunning Jane traveled in, “he was just one of many,” says Pabst.
By the late 1930s, World War II had brought a more serious side to life. With tires and gasoline rationed, the Bradleys lived above the plant, curtailing sojourns to “Lynden.” Jane worked for AB in sales, as her father’s secretary and as a receptionist who answered the phone, “AB, what’ll it be?” says AB retiree Hutton. Jane didn’t have any significant money of her own yet, but 50 years later, she would remember this as the happiest time of her life.
Old friends who’d hung out at “Lynden” began getting married and having children. On December 9, 1941, two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jane married Grant Hart Messinger. “Grant was in the same group with us growing up. The families knew each other. His father was the head of Nordberg Company, a major manufacturing company. Grant was rather quiet… even-tempered, and they had a lot of friends together,” says Kasten. “She wanted to live a normal life like all of us.” Following an extravagant wedding with nine bridesmaids at the exclusive Milwaukee Country Club, Jane and Grant moved into a home at 4810 N. Newhall in Whitefish Bay. But within 17 months, they had divorced in Reno, Nevada. Jane took back her maiden name. “I just don’t think Jane was ready to be married,” says Kasten.
In 1943, Jane put her acting training to work on AB’s stage, playing a fairy named “Tinsel” for the annual Christmas party. Later, after she’d married David Vogel Uihlein Sr., an heir to the Schlitz Brewing fortune, in January 1945, there were forays into children’s theater through the Junior Women’s Club. Although David was a year younger, something of a big deal at the time, Peg was delighted with her daughter’s marriage into one of Milwaukee’s prominent old families. The city directory listed Uihlein as a machine operator at Badger Meter Co, but the pair moved into the Uihlein Mansion at 3318 N. Lake Dr. (later the home of Warren Buffet’s son, Peter, and today, Kailas Rao). The couple had little in common. David was “something of a ladies’ man who swept Jane off her feet,” says a family member, “but he lived for just two things: hunting and his vintage cars.” The marriage produced two children, a daughter named Lynde, born within the year, and three years later, a son named David Vogel Uihlein Jr. Friends say Jane was a very caring mother. But the couple’s approach to discipline was as opposite as their interests. “My father was a ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ German and my mother would forgive anything. She spoiled me,” says their daughter.
In the early 1950s, Jane reprised her dramatic endeavors, acting in live TV ads on WTMJ for Adelman laundry and dry cleaner. Jane donned an apron and made a pitch about the virtues of clean feather pillows. “She didn’t wear her glasses on TV, but my mother was blind as a bat and they gave her big, thick contact lenses,” says Lynde Uihlein. “One day, one of the contacts fell into the toilet and she said, ‘Well, that’s the end of my career’ and she quit.” During her foray into television, Jane met Lloyd “Bud” Pettit, a WTMJ sports announcer, and those close to her say “sparks flew.” “Did they have an affair? It seems likely,” says a family member.
In 1956, Pettit moved to Chicago to become the Blackhawks’ broadcaster on WGN and the two did not see each other again for years. Jane remained married to Uihlein until July 1959. After the divorce, she had custody of the children, then 14 and 11. (David Uihlein Sr. remarried and lives in Grafton.) Jane’s cousin Brumder recalls sharing a room with Jane in New Jersey in 1965 or ’66 after an uncle’s funeral. The phone rang at 1:30 a.m. and Jane took the call. “Jane said it was a dear old friend whom she was dating, but it wasn’t. It was Bud,” says Brumder. In 1967, Pettit divorced his first wife. Two years later, Lloyd, 42, and Jane, 51, married in Illinois.
“Peg had a fit when Jane married Bud,” recalls Brumder. “Peg kept saying, ‘Why did she have to go and marry him?’ He didn’t like to travel. He wasn’t in the same social circles. He wasn’t interested in philanthropy. He wouldn’t go with any of her friends. Peg probably thought he was just after Jane’s money.” The marriage strained the mother-daughter relationship. Jane had always been closer to Harry than to Peg. She shared her father’s love for the theater, for dancing, and most importantly, for Milwaukee. Says Brumder: “Frankly, I think she liked him better than Peg, who could never understand why Jane didn’t like to travel and do the things she did.”
Lloyd Pettit’s passion was hockey, and before long, it became Jane’s, too. After they purchased the Milwaukee Admirals in 1976, their lives followed the team’s schedule. Jane became the “perfect owner,” says general manager Whitliff. “She was a very bright woman interested in what was going on, not only on the hockey side but the business side. She never meddled, although at times she wanted to. Lloyd sat in at meetings, but she asked the pertinent and poignant questions.” When Whitliff retired as a player in 1978, Lloyd was on the dais. Jane drove across town in her Buick station wagon to stand at the back of the room at the airport Red Carpet Hotel and wave. Once, when Whitliff told her he’d benched her favorite player, “She looked at me like, ‘How can you do that?’ But it was in fun. It wasn’t a look that made me fear for my job,” he says.
Despite Jane’s theatrical training, public appearances tormented her. “She is very shy about going in front of a group. She really hated to go to the big thank-you parties,” says Brumder.
“She is a very quiet, almost shy, person. She is afraid she’ll look dumb or uninformed. She’d often express concern that she didn’t have enough knowledge about certain things when she’d make a gift,” said attorney Croak of Jane in 1999. Jane agreed to go to the announcement of her $20 million lead gift for the Lynde and Harry Bradley Technical High School, the largest private gift ever given a public U.S. high school, only after AB’s Hutton insisted that he and his wife wanted to host her.
Jane dreaded having to work a crowd, “but she does it better than anyone I know,” Whitliff said shortly before her death. “She’s so compassionate.” Once, after she’d personally greeted each Admirals player and his family at the team Christmas party, she said, “’Whew! I’m glad that’s over,” Whitliff recalls. “I said, ‘You have 40 minutes before you have to give your speech. Why don’t you have a drink?’ And she said, ‘Oh, Phil, having one drink is no fun at all.’ This was from a person who never finishes her second drink! It just shows how human she is.”
In 1978, Peg Bradley died at age 83, leaving the bulk of her $1.8 million ($8.2 million in 2000 dollars) estate to Jane and sizable donations to the Milwaukee Art Museum ($200,000), the Milwaukee Symphony ($100,000) and the Christian Science Church ($125,000). Her estate included a half-million dollars worth of artwork and $91,757 in antiques, silver and crystal. Perhaps nothing showed how far the Bradleys had come as did a single piece of jewelry in her collection. In 1933, Harry’s mother, Clara, had left a diamond ring valued at $3 ($41 in 2000 dollars); Harry’s wife, Peg, left more than a half-million dollars in jewelry, including a 16-carat diamond ring worth $401,000 ($1.8 million in 2000 dollars). Her trust’s AB stock was valued at $18.75 a share. By 1985, each share would be worth $3,300.
“When Auntie Peg died, we all thought, ‘Oh, that’s the end of that wonderful philanthropy.’ But low and behold, there was Jane,” says Brumder.
In 1980, the Pettits hired Joe Tierney as their personal representative. Tierney had represented Jane’s mother. He became both public spokesman and legal counsel, and upon AB’s sale – when the $597 million value of Jane’s trusts was revealed in the papers – their security consultant as well. Tierney advised the Pettits to hire guards and to give their gifts anonymously. Jane at first resisted, but Tierney set up a handful of philanthropic entities through which she could make gifts, concealing their full magnitude.
Strangers expected someone with as much money as Jane had to exude a sense of superiority, to be aloof, so when they met her, they were pleasantly surprised. Robert Bartlett heads patron services at the Bradley Center. As was his custom in 1992, he met Jane and Lloyd Pettit at an entrance and escorted them to their box. On the way there, Jane would always inquire about his family and talk about current events, which she followed closely in the media. One evening, she told Bartlett she believed convicted murderer Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek had been railroaded and that she should get a new trial. Bartlett told Pettit she should talk to his wife, Denise, who was a matron at the county jail, a post Mary Lynde had lobbied to create 130 years earlier. After watching Bembenek sleep peacefully through the nights after her arrest, Denise was sure Bembenek was “party to a crime.” Jane wrote a note to Bartlett’s wife suggesting that they discuss the matter and offered her phone number. The two became friends. Denise would join the Pettits and their friends in their private box at Admirals games. The Bartletts were invited to dinner parties and for long weekends at the Pettits’ home Up North. The couples spent New Year’s Eve together. “I live in an 1,100-square-foot home. I clip coupons and have rummage sales. I am on such a different social rung, I didn’t know the right way to eat soup – spooning away from you – until I bought Etiquette for Dummies,” says Denise. “But Jane treated me like an equal.”
In 1997, Fran Croak replaced Tierney as the Pettits’ representative. “Joe always felt Jane should give 99 percent of her gifts anonymously. I never agreed with that. I would hear all these people saying it’s important for us to say, ‘Jane Pettit is giving to our group,’ but Joe Tierney came out of the FBI,” says Croak. With one or two exceptions, Croak says, Jane’s gifts were all made to “very mainstream organizations,” and in recent years, Jane allowed her name to be used.
“I never knew how difficult it was to give away money until I had this job,” adds Croak. “There were a million letters from people who wanted help for their children to study abroad. People starting businesses. Some of these letters were pretty sad.” Although Jane had a staff of three to help with her philanthropy, “there was just no way to evaluate all these individual requests. It was easier to give to organizations,” says Croak. “You’d be amazed at the reaction of people when they don’t get what they want. They assume they just have to ask.”
Even near the end of her life, Jane personally reviewed her staff’s recommendations. Occasionally, she’d ask that a check be sent to a charity that didn’t request funding, most recently to an organization that provided pets for people who live alone. Its entire budget was $27,000, and Jane, who was fond of her own golden retriever named Rebecca Jane, sent $5,000. In 2000, she gave 156 gifts ranging from that $5,000 to $20 million.
“She cares about people. She reacts to disaster,” Croak said in August. “She’ll see the news and send money to aid hurricane victims. Having this money is a great weight on her because everybody and their brother comes out of the woodwork asking for money, and it’s limited. Jane usually gives away more than you can deduct. Taxes don’t drive her. Believe me. But the weight is the fact that you have to deal with this money all the time. Jane spends a great deal of her time related to it.”
On the Milwaukee Brewers’ opening day in 1997, Jane made a rare public appearance without Lloyd. She had purchased a 14 percent stake in the financially troubled team and was showing her support. Except for the fundraisers she’d attend with son David, the public was unaccustomed to seeing Jane without Lloyd. The situation between them “had been bad for way too long,” says Lynde. “It was very difficult to see my mother so unhappy for so long.” Jane had a theory that Bud’s personality had been affected by his lengthy time under anesthesia during abdominal surgery a decade earlier. She told others that afterward, his “whole demeanor changed.” But the shadows of Jane’s prior marriages hung over her. “She said to me, ‘How could I have botched three marriages?’ That’s why she stayed so long,” says Brumder. “I don’t think Jane had a mean streak in her body. She’d never get mad at anyone. She’s just a very sweet, generous person.”
In December 1997, Jane asked Lloyd to move out. “She didn’t see any need for a divorce. She just didn’t want him around,” says Croak. “But when she asked Bud to leave, he announced he wanted a divorce.… He did a lot of things that would make any wife want to divorce her husband… he liked to do what he liked to… he’d belittle her.”
Bud called Jane “Lambsie” when they were with friends, but in private, a mean streak surfaced, say those close to Jane. She “had been talking about a divorce for quite a long time,” says lifelong friend Kasten. She just kept hoping it wouldn’t be necessary. To some, it was amazing that Jane, after 29 years of marriage and at age 80, had the strength to end the relationship. As petite and frail-looking as she appeared, “my mother was a very strong person. One of the qualities I marvel at most was her rock-bottom strength. She didn’t always know how to use it,” says Lynde, “but it was there.”
Jane immediately removed Lloyd’s name from the foundation (inherited wealth is not subject to Wisconsin’s joint marital property law, says Croak) and added back her maiden name, making it the Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation. When the Journal Sentinel ran an account on the divorce, it mentioned that Jane and Lloyd had disagreed over visiting Paris. Despite her love of French Impressionism, she’d never been to Europe. “When Jane read that, she laughed. There was nothing to that story,” says Croak. “I wouldn’t say that Lloyd kept her a prisoner of Milwaukee, I think that their commitment to the hockey team made it difficult to travel, and she grew to love hockey. She wouldn’t spend a significant part of the winter in Florida because she’d miss part of the season. Earlier, she was less committed than he was, but then, she was very much a married woman in the old sense that you don’t do things separately from your spouse,” says Lynde. In the spring of 1999, Jane’s son David took her to Europe on a family vacation, visiting London and the Cotswolds. “I don’t think she enjoyed five minutes of it,” says Brumder. “She loved the creature comforts of her home.”
On November 2000, Jane doubled over from severe abdominal pain. At the urging of her son and daughter, who were not raised in the Christian Science faith, she agreed to go to St. Luke’s Hospital. The cause of her pain, an obstruction from an old abdominal surgery, was easily remedied, but a chest X-ray revealed a tumor. There would be no biopsy, she said, citing her Christian Science beliefs, and no treatment. She told Lynde, “ ‘Now that I know I’m ill, I don’t have to think about my health.’ It was part of her Christian Science faith not to dwell on it.”
More than 10 years earlier, Pettit had given up smoking after being diagnosed with mouth cancer. It was treated successfully at Mayo Clinic. Now, without a biopsy to confirm their suspicions, Jane’s doctors assumed the cancer had returned. She was recovering at home in April, planning her first visit to the art museum’s Calatrava addition, for which she’d donated $13 million, when severe breathing problems forced her back into the hospital. She never left her home again.
With some anxiety, she asked her children whether they would make her go to a nursing home, and they promised she could stay in the home she loved. No one expected her to live through the summer. No one, that is, except Jane. She was in “deep denial. I don’t know if it’s healthy, but it is certainly working for her,” Lynde said in August.
By September, Jane was confined to her bed, using oxygen and under hospice care but on no pain medication. “I’d be complaining constantly,” said Lynde, but Jane never said a word. Days before her death, she was still taking phone calls. “I’m still recuperating,” she’d say in a weak voice. “When I’m better, we will have to go out to dinner.”
“Jane looks at giving away her money as her human duty, not as a civic duty. It’s a legacy of her father. If it was her mother, much as I loved Peg Bradley, we would have an art museum that went on block after block,” said former TV anchor John McCullough in 1999. McCullough became one of Jane’s friends in the ’50s when they worked together at WTMJ.
Midway through a $5 million, five-year pledge to the art museum that year, Pettit had told Croak that she would not renew the gift. She wanted to focus on women and children’s issues and the environment. In 2000, one of her biggest contributions was a $1 million gift given to Riveredge Nature Center. At Lynde’s request, she also funded the Water Keepers, the group that successfully opposed the location of a Perrier plant in northern Wisconsin. The opposition was already there, says Lynde, “she just gave it a voice.”
In a sense, at age 82, Jane Pettit was just coming into her own. “It was very difficult for her to know what she wanted with so many people telling her that. She spent a great deal of her life trying to figure that out,” says Lynde. “My mother was overprotected in ways that were detrimental to her. This is running perilously close to ‘poor little rich girl,’ but there is some truth in that. She had more than her share of unhappiness, at least two bad marriages.”
In the end, says Lynde, two things really influenced her mother’s philanthropy. “Harry – the idea that this money was given to her, that she didn’t earn it and that she wanted to give it back. My mother had extraordinary compassion, and Milwaukee was my mother’s home in a very deep-rooted way. The second influence was Peg. She did it first.”
By choice, Pettit isolated herself from public adoration. At a Milwaukee Police Band concert in 1998, a young girl asked Pettit to sign her program. She was mystified that anyone would want her autograph. “I don’t think she knows how much she means to people,” Lynde lamented in August. But every once in awhile, “when someone would write a letter to the editor of the Journal Sentinel praising her, Pettit’s friend, retired jailer Bartlett, would point it out. “She was always pleasantly surprised,” says Bartlett, “and she’d say, ‘Oh, isn’t that sweet.’ ”
Mary Van de Kamp Nohl is a senior editor of Milwaukee Magazine.
The Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation, with assets of approximately $65 million, will continue another 25 years, but the income Jane Pettit personally received from the Bradley Trusts (which are worth $800 million) will now go to her two children. Architect David V. Uihlein Jr. sits on the board of the conservative Bradley Foundation, which is dedicated to the “sanctity of human life, the importance of the individual and the human need for freedom.” Jane’s daughter, Lynde Uihlein, almost her brother’s political alter ego, has her own Brico (French for “do-it-yourself”) Fund dedicated to “the empowerment, advancement and full participation in society of women and girls.”
“I think David is a community-oriented person. I have less interest in funding only locally,” she said this past summer before her mother’s death. “I have wider-ranging interests. Everyone in the family has followed a pretty conservative course, except for me.”