She lived in a tent in New Guinea.
She didn’t buy a car until she was 32.
She saved religiously, then invested her money wisely.
Today, at age 77, Pat Anderson is a millionaire, an example of how someone of modest means can get rich.
Anderson did it with frugality and prudence, virtues lost in today’s consumer-oriented culture.
“There are so many things people buy that they don’t need,” she said last week. “Back in our day, in the Depression, we didn’t know we were poor.”
Anderson, a volunteer social worker in Seattle, graduated from the former Washington State College in 1941. She never had children, and now that she’s getting older, she’s putting the finishing touches on her will.
The WSU Foundation recently announced that Anderson is bequeathing $1 million to the university, including money from her brokerage accounts and title to her luxury condominium in Seattle.
The foundation will invest the assets and use the earnings for scholarships and an endowed professorship in the honors program. For that, Anderson was designated a laureate of the university.
“It was such a struggle for my sister and myself to get through school,” Anderson said. “I don’t want any student who is a good student to be restricted for lack of money.”
The oldest of four children of a lumber salesman, Anderson was raised in Auburn, Wash., and graduated as valedictorian of her high school class.
She remembers her mother as a kind-hearted soul, who bought the family what it needed to the point of being a spendthrift. She said she left home determined to be different.
In college, she watched every dollar, in part because she earned her way through school in low-wage jobs.
She never had a senior portrait taken. She said she wanted to save money for other needs. She graduated summa cum laude in speech and was voted most likely to succeed, but her photo never appeared in the yearbook.
Her first husband, her college sweetheart, was killed in Italy during World War II a year after their wedding. She went to work for the Red Cross in 1944, and spent the next four years overseas.
While in New Guinea, she was stationed in a tent. She didn’t spend much money, and returned to the United States with a start on what was to become her fortune.
“I was having too much fun living,” she said, to think about acquiring a lot of possessions.
She went to work as a hospital administrator and later became a state director for the National Association for Mental Health.
Anderson remarried in 1958 to another health-care administrator. Both had savings and they decided to spread their money among stocks, bonds, real estate and cash holdings. Their nest egg grew.
“We both invested conservatively with wise brokers,” she said.
It was the secret to her wealth.
The money enabled Anderson to stop working full-time. She became a volunteer and took part-time jobs. She and her husband traveled around the world. They went to 44 countries in one trip.
After her husband died in 1975, Anderson kept traveling.
She spent one Christmas in Denmark and another in Finland. Earlier this year she taught English to children in a remote Polish village.
For Anderson, travel is an expedition. “You won’t find me in a luxury hotel,” she said.
At home, she works as a guardian ad litem for abused children in juvenile court. She also monitors the progress of drunken drivers who seek drug and alcohol treatment instead of jail time. She swims every day to stay fit.
“The kinds of things I do I’ve always enjoyed doing,” she said.
Over the years she’s helped out nieces and nephews who’ve gone to college, but wanted to leave the bulk of her estate in the hands of an agency that would manage it for perpetuity.
She said she selected the WSU Foundation because of its expertise in preserving assets, and using the earnings to benefit students.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo