Frederick Koch, Who Spurned Family Business, Dies at 86

The oldest of four boys, he had little interest in his brothers’ conglomerate or politics. Instead, he collected art and restored manor houses.

Comments: 62

  1. The irony is this son gave far more to benefit humanity than the others. Instead of investing in industries that kill the planet, he invested in the arts. Instead of using his money to subvert democratic accountability over business, he used it to further the study of the humanities. Fred Sr. may have been disappointed in his namesake, but I am not.

  2. @James Exactly. Bravo!

  3. A discerning and discreet arts patron. God bless him.

  4. I believe Frederick Koch is a decent man. If anyone wants to know what his brothers, Charles and David have been up to, look no further than Jane Mayer’s ‘Dark Money.’ An illuminating book that tells the tepid, dark, underworld of private companies and dark money. Charles Koch is particularly unstable. He believes in no government whatsoever, the right of corporations to pollute as much and wherever they want, and total billionaire control of everything. The Koch brothers are Republican anarchists masquerading as capitalists. And they have lots of company. Other books to consider are: ‘Merchants of Doubt’ by David Michaels and ‘Capital in the Twenty First Century’ by Thomas Piketty.

  5. @PC, sorry...’Triumph of Doubt’ by David Michaels

  6. @PC He certainly believes in the government he buys to protect his interests; the rest of us can fend for ourselves in the rugged "free market."

  7. @Pat Yes, but the ultimate goal is to have enough power to not need government at all. Corporate monarchy.

  8. This obituary is a great American novel in miniature! I usually prefer reading the obituaries that appear in the British press or university magazines, being less adulatory and more tolerant of the subject's limitations. This obit falls within that too-often under-appreciated literary tradition, allowing the reader to infer much about this well-lived life. Thank you!

  9. A life well lived. Proof that money can be, and should, be used for good.

  10. @Rhett Snyder Money should be earned. Period. His money was inherited, and therefore immoral, even if we like the things he did with it.

  11. @J c Aren't you happy that daddy did well and could benefit his family?

  12. @J c Come off your high horse. Looks , intelligence, social standing are all inherited. Just because something is unfair does not make it immoral.

  13. Interesting obit. I had no idea about this Koch brother. Now I know he wanted it that way. We are living in a time that seems to only favor doing things/careers that are STEM related so it is nice to hear that that humanities had the ear of this Koch brother. The humanities and arts matter. Also, now I understand who donated to the MET. Every time I would visit I would think how strange that the Koch brothers donated to the museum since I thought they didn't care about the arts. Now, I know, it was Frederick not his evil two brothers who donated to the MET. I respect the fact that he favored anonymity and thankful for all he did for the arts with his good fortune.

  14. @p.a. All of the Koch brothesr donated extensively to the arts. David donated $10 million to the Met, and $100 million to what was then the New York State Theatre. He donated extensively to the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Natural History, and was a longtime sponsor of Nova on PBS. It's tempting to think someone who you disagree with politically is automatically evil, but the real story is more complex. All the Koch brothers were intelligent, learned men.

  15. @p.a. David Koch donated to the Metropolitan Museum, Fred to the Metropolitan Opera. They were both board members.

  16. @dwalker: Yes, but DAVID *needed* to have his name on the fountains in front of the Met Museum, whereas Fred worked quietly & anonymously.

  17. I suspect there’s a great deal of reportage that can and will be done on this most interesting family. That Kansas frugality showed through even late in life (turn off the lights, pick up a nickel even if it’s embedded in asphalt). He used his inherited wealth to make the world a better place, to find, buy and keep significant collectibles and serve as a true, discrete patron of the arts. William is another interesting story, profiled several years ago on “60 Minutes” for being swindled out of significant sums of money as he collected “rare” wines. Charles and his late brother David get the most ink as oil barons and political influencers. The other two have led much more interesting lives.

  18. @Mark H: I recommend "Sons of Wichita" by Daniel Schulman, a well-written impartial biography of all four of the Koch brothers Fred Jr. Charles, Bill and David. A very interesting and important family, even if you do not like the politics of Charles and (now deceased) David.

  19. @Chris Donahue also the more recently written, "Kochland".....tho less 'impatrially wrtten'.

  20. Appears to have been a very decent person and philanthropist, polar opposite of his rapacious brothers who gladly fight fossil fuel environmental regulations that will kill the planet to make even more money. And for what will they use that money for? Certainly not for good and beneficence like Freddie.

  21. A gentleman and a gentle man

  22. @Barbara E. Deist .org it makes me sad, though, that hiding his sexual orientation may have come at the expense of having a loving relationship in his life. The extent to which two of his brothers forced that secrecy upon him makes me respect them even less.

  23. Wonders never cease....a Koch brother to be admired rather than despised.

  24. He seems to have had a much happier life than C&D. What better revenge could there be?

  25. Bravo, Frederick, well done. In a just world you will be the Koch brother we salute!

  26. Brings to mind Lincoln Kirstein, another great man...

  27. What’s the connection with Kirsten? None

  28. @SmartenUp Thank you. Kirstein was an amazing human being. We can also thank him for MOMA, and the groundbreaking literary journal, Hound & Horn, among others. Anita might do well to read "The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein" by Martin Duberman.

  29. He was indeed a worthy philanthropist, but this article doesn't mention that 'spurning the family business' was in reality being forcefully excluded from the family business due to the threat by his brothers to out his homosexuality to their father. Would he have walked his own path of charity away from the politically manipulative agenda that has become the signature legacy of his brothers otherwise? I wonder.

  30. A billionaire that is admired for not being a creep. How low can the bar go?

  31. @Paulie "Regular people" can be and are creeps, too. It is possible and necessary to appreciate humanity wherever it shows itself.

  32. @Paulie The work he did in finding, collecting and then distributing cultural artifacts to good institutions is just as important as the work of any scholar of history or culture. Without this work, the pieces of our history and culture will be scattered and lost. He seems to have been very serious and systematic in this work, and many institutions are now benefitting.

  33. A class act from the beginning until the end. He will be missed, thank you Fredrick for your contributions to humanity.

  34. Frederick R. Koch did the best he could with what he had. He could have become a monster, but chose a less destructive existence. If he could have built a foundation to help educate America's poor and to deal with environmental issues facing our world his legacy would be more secure.

  35. I remember performing at a party in Mr. Koch’s NYC home in the early eighties as a member of the Princeton Nassoons a capella singing group. The Yale Whiffenpoofs also performed. It was heady company for a college freshman. Fred Koch’s generous fee helped pay for our record album. What a sweet, generous man. It was only years later that I learned about his brothers and their malign influence. R.I.P. Freddie.

  36. @Dave Me too! I was in that Whiff group performing at his home! A very kind, generous man.

  37. Seems like a decent person. But inherited wealth is inherently immoral, inefficient, and unamerican. There is absolutely no reason for children--who earned nothing--to inherit anything from the parents, maybe save a family house. A 99% wealth transfer tax beyond the family house, used to fund truly equal education for all kids, would solve inequality in a single generation. It would provide equal opportunity (though not results) to poor and working-class kids, and inspire (and require) that the rich kids work as hard as the poor if they want to have a good life--what's wrong with that?

  38. @J c That's your opinion. I see nothing wrong with leaving money to one's children. Jealous much? Wanting everyone to be equal as far as opportunities & wealth is a nice idea, but does not work. It's called Communism & everyone ends up being poor & catering to a government & dictator.

  39. Then who gets the money?

  40. @J c it would also mean that children of the wealthy would have to live in the real world and face whatever struggles are the norm at the time. I think this would lead some of those children's wealthy parents to weigh their political and social choices differently.

  41. thank god the days of "confirmed bachelors" are almost no longer

  42. What a weird world we live in. A fabulously wealthy family who battled each other viciously, practically pecking each other's eyes out, even the mother, and the 3 political brothers actually felt entitled to tell the rest of America how to live. Their $$$ is the lifeblood of the current crop of GOP cowards who sit by while Rome burns. Their rancid influence lives on in many areas of American life. Surely this brother did less harm with his mountain chalets and mansions. Maybe his Shakespeare studies let him organize the mother lode of human greed he grew up with. Didn't the old man once work for Stalin? Seems like he did oil field exploration for him. I always wondered why they didn't have to answer for that when Obama's dad he only knew as a toddler was somehow fair game. What a legacy.

  43. Children of privilege willing to publicly and abjectly admit that they are not self-made are the only children of privilege worth respecting. Did Frederick Koch ever do that?

  44. Why is this obituary in the Business section and not the Arts?

  45. A Koch brother. Perhaps more fascinating for what was not said in this obit

  46. @Emmett yeah, but I guess he never said it publicly.

  47. A man who did not seem to have hurt anyone in particular and was very generous in his philanthropy. Often anonymously. Did he not deserve privacy in such a difficult and accusatory world?

  48. “His entire estate…will be used to establish a foundation to promote the study of literature, history and the arts.” Something positive out of all those ill gotten gains. Read Kochland, it’s a very good book, if utterly angering.

  49. A Koch that doesn't turn one's stomach. Well done, Freddie.

  50. A spoiled dilliate who spent his life in luxury collecting manor homes, manuscripts and art, funding Princeton acapella group records albums and a theater for the queen. Imagine if he had actually his immense wealth and influence outside of this ridiculous bubble actually working to counter his brothers toxic influence on the country and help people rather than fund his hobbies. I find noting admirable about this Marie Antoinette

  51. How do you know he did not do these things? And by the way, it was not your money.

  52. @James “Dilliate?” You mean dilettante. And that’s what the wealthy, even the most socially-conscious of them, are often called by those who have much less money and much more envy.

  53. @James perhaps you would prefer that he had thrown his money at politicians to gain influence, like his brothers. Instead,he was helping to preserve our cultural history. I find that valuable.

  54. I would have been more impressed if he had made charitable donations or funded scholarships.

  55. @Anonymous You MISSED the "“His entire estate…will be used to establish a foundation to promote the study of literature, history and the arts.”" part.

  56. @Anonymous Since so much of his philanthropy was privately done, he may well have been doing this without asking for any public credit.

  57. What great institutions he supported. Sometimes it takes a family to express the depth of our humanity, sometimes it comes with the long growth of an individual. We earn to support our families and with grace we slowly exhale to return what can be hopefully wisely used by future people of good intentions. How wonderful, his brothers must be so jealous. If only I had a nickel for every car that beeped while passing my bowing to fate.

  58. At an early age, he escaped with his life, and lost his toxic family in the process. It’s not easy being the white sheep of the family. I give him a lot of credit for not succumbing to the will of his autocratic father.

  59. For an in-depth look at all members of the Koch family, read Jane Mayer's "Dark Money". It should be required reading for all Americans. As Charles (the brains and funder of the highly effective libertarian/right wing campaign) said recently, "We've made more progress in the last five years on our agenda than in the prior fifty". Unfortunately true, so true. Oligarchs rule. Freddie was an anomaly. Here is the NYTimes 2016 review of the book

  60. "How bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes!"

  61. Unfortunately, the best of the Koch brothers has passed. He was unique, and there will no not another like him. How sad.

  62. What an interesting story. Several books about the Koch dynasty -mostly Charles and David - have been published in recent years and the portrait of Charles and David isn't flattering. What a contrast to this brother who devoted his life in the pursuit of beauty, leaving a legacy to the arts. Well done, Frederick Koch.