We should all live and die like the 'Corona Billionaire'

When he passed away this August, Antonino Fernandez didn’t actually leave £200m to the tiny Spanish hamlet of Cerezales del Condado. But all the same he was pretty decent to the place. He has sent it stacks of cash over the years

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The Independent Online

It seemed too good to be true and in the end, it was. Billionaire makes fortune from inventing Corona beer and leaves his riches to everyone in the village where he was born. Er, not quite. When he passed away this August, Antonino Fernandez didn’t actually leave £200m to the tiny Spanish hamlet of Cerezales del Condado.

But all the same he was pretty decent to the place. He has sent it stacks of cash over the years; so much so that churches, foundations and a local cultural centre arose from his generosity. He had no direct heir but gave his many nephews and nieces (who live in the area) so much dosh that the village benefited greatly, albeit in trickle-down rather than direct donation.

Fernandez, born in poverty as one of 13 children and ended up as a Mexican beer magnate, died at 99 with the words of Andrew Carnegie; “a man who dies rich dies disgraced,” ringing in his ears. Indeed, it seems that he really did practise what the Scottish steel magnate preached: “There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.”

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A Spanish newspaper puts his generosity down to his religious faith, which Fernandez always believed supported him during the trauma of an abduction in 1977 at the hands of the Communist League, during which he was shot in the leg.

Yet goodness me, the billionaires of this world have a problem with the whole notion of inheritance. One would have thought that they would all act like Fernandez, but no. There are those like John P Getty, who left over $660m (about $3bn today) to his eponymous museum, thus ensuring personal immortality. Leona Helmsley left £12m to her pet dog Trouble.

Various others have prevaricated so much that six years ago, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates launched the Giving Pledge, in an effort to convince America’s wealthiest individuals to commit to donating more than half of their fortunes to charity or philanthropy. So far more than 130 couples and individuals have signed up, although probably not all with the remarkable honesty of oil magnate George B Kaiser (net worth $10bn), who said “I suppose I arrived at my charitable commitment largely through guilt. I recognised early on that my good fortune was not due to superior personal character or initiative so much as it was to dumb luck.”

Indeed, in giving his wealth away on death to such a wide circle it seems as if Fernandez felt the same. He will never know how his fortune is spent by his relations or indeed the inhabitants of Cerezales del Condado. They may well drink themselves into the ground, or turn his cultural centre into a bingo hall, or wreck his natal village with giant developments. Yet, he did his best to share his spectacular luck. He chanced upon a lucrative alchemy involving a particular fizzy lager, global branding and the pyramidal structure of capitalism. And in death, he went a tiny way to ameliorate the grotesque inequality capitalism depends on. Here’s to him.

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