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Dismayed by Nuclear Arms Race : McDonald's Fortune Fuels Joan Kroc's Peace Effort

October 13, 1985|SCOTT HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

While Kroc was in Hiroshima, a fledgling group called Mothers Embracing Nuclear Disarmament (MEND) staged a pro-disarmament march in San Diego that attracted an estimated 10,000 demonstrators. The mothers' group has received substantial funding from Joan Kroc and can expect more--not surprising, considering that the group was founded by Linda Smith, Kroc's daughter and only child.

Kroc also has agreed to a "major grant" to help Notre Dame University establish an Institute of Peace Studies, now in the planning stages.

If skeptics dismiss Kroc as a jet-set do-gooder, associates stress that she becomes personally involved in many of the causes she supports. Allies describe her as bright, emotional, impulsive and strong-willed.

"Joan is not just interested in finding a nice, safe cause like a disease or a hospital," Lemmon said. "She is basically concerned with what the hell is going to happen to all of us. . . .

"She controls the position she is in, rather than vice versa. . . . She will always be totally her own woman. She is not overly concerned with public reaction."

Style Is 'Feminine'

Often described as a liberal and a feminist, Kroc eschews such labels. Registered as nonpartisan, Kroc likes to describe her political style as "feminine," prefering gracious persuasion to confrontation.

She does not arrive at decisions through elaborate cerebrations, but relies on her emotions, friends and associates say. Kroc calls it "a gut feeling"--"my woman's intuition. I feel most women have it."

Typical of her approach, Kroc had a hand in editing the special edition of "Missile Envy." Kroc, with Caldicott's permission, excised some of the more critical comments about President Reagan. "She doesn't want to turn anybody off if she can help it," said Mike Sund, Kroc's full-time press aide.

Kroc shies away from a technical discourse on the arms race. For example, when asked to detail her position on the President's Strategic Defense Initiative, or so-called "Star Wars" laser defense, she demurred, saying that she would prefer to leave that debate to the experts.

Rather, Kroc sees her role as motivating what she perceives as a bewildered, peace-loving majority to action.

'It's Time to Quit B.S.'

"They're talking in Washington about apocalypse and Armageddon and evil empires," she said. "I fear that President Reagan shares with the Moral Majority the belief that Armageddon is near. . . . I just think it's time to quit this b.s.

"People are frightened and they just feel powerless, and I'm trying to tell them that they're not."

Kroc seems at once candid and cautious of her image. During a recent interview, she requested that no tape recorder be used, noting that her taped voice could be used out of context. And when Kroc, a chain smoker, lit up a cigarette, she asked the photographer to retire his camera--"please, for the children of America."

Kroc's sense of destiny may be explained in part by her spiritual makeup. Raised a Lutheran, Kroc said that over time she grew uncomfortable with organized religion, although she never lost her faith in God.

"I just think He has a purpose for everyone," she said. Later, she added: "I just don't question it. I just feel that God is. I don't think He loves anyone in the world more than me or loves anyone less."

Money for Lessons

Joan Beverly Mansfield was the oldest of two daughters born to a railroad worker father and a mother who played the violin. Her father was out of work often during the Depression, and the family relocated often, scraping by, but always having enough to pay for Joan's piano lessons. The family eventually settled in St. Paul, Minn.

She was 17 when she met and married a young man fresh out of the Navy, Roland Smith. One year later, Joan gave birth to daughter Linda.

In the early 1950s, Joan Smith took a job playing the piano and organ in a posh St. Paul restaurant, the Clarion. Then one night in 1957, budding burger tycoon Ray Kroc came to the Clarion to talk business. McDonald's was in its infancy, and Jim Zien, owner of the Clarion, wanted in.

As he recalled in his 1977 autobiography "Grinding It Out," Kroc, a pianist himself, was struck "by the classy organ music. . . . Finally Jim took me over to introduce me to the organist.


"I was stunned by her blonde beauty. Yes, she was married. Since I was married too the spark that ignited when our eyes met had to be ignored, but I would never forget it."

'It's Kind of Corny'

Joan Kroc said she felt that spark too, though Ray Kroc, at 53, was 25 years her senior. "It's kind of corny, but it's true."

The courtship lasted 12 tumultuous years.

Over the next six years, Kroc traveled often to St. Paul--ostensibly on business, but really to court Joan. He divorced his wife of 35 years and tried to persuade Joan to divorce Roland. But with her daughter still a teen-ager, Joan refused.

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