McDonald's heiress leaves money for study of war and peace

Books on current events mysteriously started appearing in Joyce Neu's mailbox not long after she became friends with McDonald's heiress Joan B. Kroc.

Kroc devoured news on world events from every source she could find, from books to Internet sites to radio reports. She longed to discuss her thoughts on the news with friends, who couldn't get away with excuses that they were too busy to read the books she had sent.

"She'd say, 'Just read chapter eight, then call me, we'll talk,"' Neu recalled with a laugh.

So it was no surprise to Kroc's friends after her death at age 75 on Oct. 12 that she left a big piece of her estimated $1.7 billion estate to organizations dedicated to keeping people informed about war and peace.

Kroc bequeathed $200 million to National Public Radio and $50 million apiece to peace institutes at the universities of Notre Dame and San Diego that bear her name.

"I think that these gifts are similar in the way that people have to be educated and have to be informed in order to make wise decisions," said Neu, executive director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego. "She thought that if people were better informed, they would not have to accept the use of violent means" to solve problems.

Kroc, the widow of billionaire McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, gave generously throughout her life to organizations representing her many passions, including democracy, health care and the arts.

Above all, though, her interest in world peace drove much of her philanthropy.

In addition to donating the money to build the peace institutes at Notre Dame and San Diego, established respectively in 1986 and 2001, she was a major benefactor of the Carter Center in Atlanta, which promotes human rights and freedom around the world.

"She was interested in all aspects of human rights, in the protection of people from suffering, in democracy," said former President Carter, a close friend of Kroc's.

"Her legacy will be a permanent one promoting peace and human rights around the world."

Kroc also was concerned about ending suffering closer to home. During her life, she donated to local causes in the San Diego area where she lived, including homeless shelters, AIDS charities and a 12 1/2-acre Salvation Army recreation center.

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