J. Roderick MacArthur

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John Roderick MacArthur
Born December 21, 1920
Died December 15, 1984(1984-12-15) (aged 63)
Nationality American
Alma mater Rollins College
Occupation businessman and philanthropist
Known for Bradford Exchange

John Roderick MacArthur (December 21, 1920 – December 15, 1984) was a U.S. businessman and philanthropist. The J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, a philanthropic organization interested in civil liberties in the United States, and the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University School of Law[1] are named after him. He is the son of John D. MacArthur who established the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


J. Roderick MacArthur, known as Rod MacArthur, was born December 21, 1920 to the former Louise Ingals and John D. MacArthur. The couple also had a daughter, Virginia MacArthur. In 1926 John D. MacArthur traveled to Mexico to divorce and two years later married Catherine T. Hyland.

Rod MacArthur attended Rollins College in Florida and worked as a stringer for the Associated Press in Mexico. During World War II he joined the American Field Service, serving with the French Army in the ambulance corps, and he participated in the campaign that liberated France.

He worked for his father in the insurance industry before they became estranged. In 1973, while working with a company that sold ceramic collectable plates, MacArthur noticed that the collectible ceramic market was chaotic. He started the Bradford Exchange which by the time of his death sold about 90% of all the collectable plates in the world. Often credited with becoming "a self-made millionaire," in actuality MacArthur had some financial backing from his father, although the idea, business plan and effort were indeed Rod MacArthur's own. In 1975, once the exchange was successful, his eccentric father claimed that Bradford Exchange was his business and John D. MacArthur seized the Bradford Exchange's customer lists and put the on-hand inventory under lock and key. J. Roderick MacArthur then organized a group of employees to enter his father's warehouse in Northbrook, IL and hustled the inventory into a waiting fleet of trucks.

Personal life[edit]

Rod MacArthur married Christiane L'Entendart in Paris in 1947 and had a daughter and two sons, one of them the publisher and president of Harper's Magazine, John R. "Rick" MacArthur.


Rod Macarthur died December 15, 1984 at age 63 from pancreatic cancer. He is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. His epitaph, written in English using Greek letters, is ονε φοοτ ιν φαιριελανδ ("one foot in fairieland").

Philanthropic endeavors[edit]

Father and son reconciled before John D. MacArthur died on January 6, 1978 (also of pancreatic cancer, the disease that would kill his son six years later), and he named Rod MacArthur to the board of his foundation. At that point, John D. MacArthur was worth in excess of $1 billion and was reportedly one of the three richest men in the United States. John D. MacArthur left ninety-two percent of his estate to begin the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The composition of the Foundation's first Board of Directors, per John D. MacArthur's will, included J. Roderick MacArthur, Catherine T. MacArthur (his second wife), his attorney William T. Kirby, two officers of Bankers Life and Casualty, and Radio Commentator Paul Harvey. John D. MacArthur's grandson, and Rod MacArthur's son, John R. "Rick" MacArthur, has charged publicly:

"The idea behind the foundation was as a tax dodge that he thought would allow his business executives to run his company forever. He clearly didn't understand the tax laws."[2]

In any event, J. Roderick Macarthur quickly clashed with the board of his father's foundation. The Bankers Life executives and Paul Harvey held conservative views regarding the structure and size of the board, its purpose and the sale of the business.

Largely due to Rod MacArthur's efforts, the board was expanded to thirteen members in 1979. The new members had backgrounds from academia, science, government, and business. This board now openly and publicly fought over the grants that were made to favorite board member causes, often trading votes among themselves. Even though there was support for each board member's causes, an extremely bitter and public argument erupted between Rod MacArthur and former U.S. Treasury Secretary William E. Simon over board grants to a number of conservative causes Simon supported. Eventually Simon resigned from the board.

Rod MacArthur continued to be unhappy with the foundation and its management. He launched two lawsuits, the first in February 1984 against his fellow board members charging in essence that board members were acting as executives of Bankers Life and were looking out for their own best interest and not the needs of the foundation. His suit also alleged that the foundation was not managing its assets properly. MacArthur further claimed that high fees were being paid to board members for their foundation work and he felt that Bankers Life was not being managed well and had lost value. He requested that either the foundation be dissolved or that the court appoint a receiver to manage and sell Bankers Life.

After Rod MacArthur blocked the sale of the company for $116 million less, the board found a buyer for Bankers Life that was willing to pay $384 million for the company.[3] Although this removed the Bankers Life issue from the suit, there were still Rod MacArthur's allegations that board members and key foundation executives were profiting at the expense of the foundation.

Rod MacArthur made two further contributions while on the board of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. First, he is the person who pushed the Board to offer the MacArthur fellowships, also called "Genius Grants".[4] Second, in 1980 at the urging of his son John R. "Rick" MacArthur, then 23, Rod persuaded the Board to partner in creating and funding a Harper's Magazine Foundation to acquire and operate the magazine of the same name. This new entity acquired Harper's Magazine (which was then losing nearly $2 million per year and was on the verge of ceasing publication) for $250,000. Rick MacArthur eventually took over the foundation that owned Harper's.

Two years before John D. MacArthur died and set up his foundation, Rod MacArthur used his substantial fortune from the Bradford Exchange to form his own foundation. As of 2004, the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation had $22 million in assets[5] and supports liberal causes, including the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University School of Law.


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