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The Shy Tycoon Who Owns 1/640th of the U.S.
Robert Cantwell
August 18, 1969
George Weyerhaeuser's holdings (trees on map) may soon expand to 1/400th of the country. Musing on a stump, he ponders new ways in which his vast forests can contribute to conservation and recreation as well as timber profits
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August 18, 1969

The Shy Tycoon Who Owns 1/640th Of The U.s.

George Weyerhaeuser's holdings (trees on map) may soon expand to 1/400th of the country. Musing on a stump, he ponders new ways in which his vast forests can contribute to conservation and recreation as well as timber profits

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He searched through the night for the second stake but could not find it. At dawn he returned to the Ambassador. The phone rang; he was directed to go home and send a different emissary. George's uncle Rod Titcomb in turn was phoned at the Ambassador the next night and directed to a place near Halfway House, where the Seattle-Tacoma airport was later built. A note at the base of a stake directed him to a second stake on a road by Angle Lake, a deep, mile-long trout lake in the woods.

Here he found the stake and the note, which told him to turn on the dome light of his car, place the suitcase containing the money on the front seat, leave the engine running and walk down the road.

Mahan and Margaret were parked nearby—there was nothing unusual about a couple in a parked car. Mahan jumped in Titcomb's car, drove it to a shack he had rented on the edge of Seattle, hid the $200,000 there and ditched Titcomb's car on a side street. Margaret drove his car to the Fir Apartments. Mahan picked it up there and was on his way to Spokane while Titcomb was still walking back to town. Margaret stayed in Seattle.

As the days passed, George and Waley came to an understanding of sorts. George was let out of the closet when there was no danger of anyone coming by. Waley, still wearing his hood, whiled away the time playing his ukulele. Good treatment ended abruptly when Mahan arrived. George was packed back into the cracker box and locked in the trunk of the car. They reached Seattle that night. Picking up Margaret at the apartment, Mahan and Waley drove to the shack, divided the money and put Margaret on a train for Salt Lake. Sometime between midnight and dawn they stopped the car, got George out of the trunk, gave him a dollar and two blankets and left him beside a woods road. They vanished, and for a long time it looked as if they never would be found.

Rain started to fall. About daylight George picked up his blankets and walked out of the woods.

Presently he came to a shingled house on a lonely knoll. Mrs. John Bonifas, the wife of a stump farmer, was preparing breakfast for her husband and four children. George went around to the back and knocked on the kitchen door. Thus he returned to civilization. "I'm George Weyerhaeuser," he explained.

George Weyerhaeuser these days is an engaging, friendly individual who looks over the Weyerhaeuser woods with the air of a man who wishes that trees grew faster than they do. He became president three years ago at the age of 39, the youngest in the 68-year history of the company. It is a slow-paced business, one in which you plant now and plan to cut down the trees 60 years from now. Or perhaps never. Some of the Weyerhaeuser land is in wilderness so beautiful that it may be worth more for outdoor recreation with the trees growing on it than the trees would be if they were harvested.

Around Tacoma people will tell you not to ask him about the time he was kidnapped. As the head of a company with annual sales of $1.2 billion and with 37,000 employees, George Weyerhaeuser is not particularly happy to be identified as someone who was held for ransom at the age of 9. Besides, he shares the desire for seclusion that has distinguished the family. He graduated from Lowell Grammar and Mason Junior High in Tacoma, went on to Taft and to Yale, enlisted in the Navy at 18 during World War II while he was in college, graduated with honors after the war, worked as a pulp mill laborer, became a supervisor and finally superintendent of a Weyerhaeuser subsidiary in Oregon. He married Wendy Wagner, the beautiful daughter of a family of pioneer lumbermen. In the family tradition, he lives quietly with his wife and two sons and four daughters in the pleasant Tacoma suburb of Gravelly Lake, close by the homes of many other Weyerhaeusers.

But he has departed from the family tradition in a couple of significant ways. One is that he has revealed a willingness to make decisions himself instead of relying on the long, slow methods of family-plus-experts consultation of the past. The other is his awareness of the need for space for outdoor recreation. But otherwise, say his friends, he is a typical Weyerhaeuser, reluctant to discuss things in personal terms; don't ask him about the kidnapping.

"No, I don't mind talking about it," he said to me "I don't think it bothered me unduly." When he became president there was some talk as to whether his independence stemmed from his desire to prove himself individually, just because his kidnapping and court appearances made him so famous as a 9-year-old. He doubted it. "A 9-year-old boy is a pretty adaptable organism." he said. "He can adjust himself to conditions in a way no adult could. It didn't affect me personally as much as anyone looking back on it might think. But a family—I think a kidnapping is one of the worst things that can happen to a family."

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