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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

The two did not see each other for almost six years. Meanwhile, Ray Kroc remarried. And, as it turned out, Roland Smith had become a partner with Zien in a McDonald's franchise and later acquired three McDonald's franchises in Rapid City, S.D.

In 1969, Ray Kroc spoke at a convention of McDonald's operators in San Diego. Among those in attendance were the Roland Smiths of Rapid City.

Upon seeing Joan, Kroc was "hit by the same wave of emotion that had bowled me over before." They flirted overtly--and before the night was over, Joan told Ray that she was ready to get a divorce and marry him.

Was Meant to Be

Joan Kroc believes that their marriage was meant to be. "I believe that. We met when I was 28 and we weren't married until I was 40. And for that six-year stretch I did not see Ray. And yet I knew--as he said he knew--that we would be married someday." And she volunteered that while she was married to Roland Smith, her love affair with Kroc was chaste.

Their 15-year marriage also was marked by drama. "Ray loved my mother so hard. . . . They are two very strong personalities," Linda Smith recalled. "It was like Liz Taylor and Dick Burton."

One problem in their marriage--and one of the few subjects about which Joan Kroc is reticent--was Kroc's drinking. She acknowledges in interviews that Ray was admitted to an alcoholism rehabilitation center after a stroke in 1980. Unless pressed, she says nothing more.

Kroc's problem with alcohol apparently helped prompt Joan to file a divorce suit in November, 1971, citing "extreme and repeated mental cruelty."

They were separated for a month before reconciling. "We discovered that we couldn't live without each other," Joan Kroc said cheerfully. She declined to discuss details of the suit.

First Major Endeavor

Her antipathy to alcohol--she drinks wine, modestly--inspired her in 1976 to form Operation Cork (Kroc spelled backwards), an alcoholism educational program. It was her first major philanthropic endeavor.

The Krocs also had happy times. In his book--which makes no mention of the separation--Ray Kroc described her as "the ideal partner in music and marriage."

Ray Kroc, stricken with diabetes and arthritis, spent much of his last three years in a wheelchair or in bed, and Joan was usually nearby. "He wanted her around, and she was always there, right at his side," said Zien, who has remained a friend.

Joan Kroc said that after Ray's death in January, 1984, she had intended to go quietly about her affairs. But events placed her in the public eye, she said. "This was nothing I was seeking," she said. "Things evolve. . . . I just think life has a plan."

First there was the tragedy in San Ysidro in July, 1984. After a berserk gunman walked into a McDonald's in San Ysidro and killed 21 people, Kroc came forward with $100,000 to establish the San Ysidro Survivors Fund to assist grieving families.

Tossed Into Pool

Then there was Padres' National League pennant the following September. Kroc, whose son-in-law, Ballard Smith, is team president, joined in San Diego's celebration and made herself available to the nation's press. She also attended a party held by the players--and was tossed into the swimming pool.

Friends and associates expect that Joan Kroc will try to exert influence for many years to come. Despite the hawkish rhetoric of the arms race, she said, she is optimistic that, eventually, there will be progress toward disarmament.

She remembers that she was in Hong Kong in late July when the news broke that Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev had called for a moratorium on nuclear testing as a gesture of good faith for the November arms summit in Geneva. His proposal was similar to that suggested in Kroc's second newspaper ad, which had run a few weeks earlier.

"Now, I'd be crazy if I thought I had anything to do with that," she said. "But I was so thrilled I called home immediately"--only to learn that the White House had denounced Gorbachev's proposal as a propaganda ploy.

"I was terribly disappointed. I think we should have taken them up on that. . . . What could it have harmed? What could it have possibly harmed?"

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