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Eccentric who lives in motel gives Virginia town $1 million

May 20, 1997

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) _ An older fellow in dirty jeans who lives in a motel and rides the bus walked into the town office, pulled a check for $1 million from the jacket of his denim jacket and gave it away.

Irwin Uran, 71, was good for it _ that and more.

Few people in town even realized there was a multimillionaire in their midst. About the only clue to Uran’s estimated $400 million fortune is the bodyguard who sometimes accompanies him on walks through town.

``He always said he was wealthy, but I had no idea he had that kind of money,″ said Ken Meyer, owner of a bagel shop next to the Best Western where Uran has lived with his dog in a sparse room for about three years. ``He always asked for the senior citizen discount on his sandwich.″

Uran, who made his fortune investing wisely, has been doling out millions in mostly anonymous gifts.

``My mother told me before she died to help people, and that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. This is my work now,″ Uran said.

Uran specified that his gift to the town be used to help children. Mayor James Clem said it may be used in part to buy land for a new high school.

Uran also gave the town a separate $25,000 check earmarked for anti-drug counseling for children. Earlier in the year, he made separate $25,000 donations to the town police and fire departments.

``Absolutely we were stunned. And how do you say thank you for that? Words don’t really express it,″ Clem said Tuesday.

Uran said he came to Leesburg three years ago from Santa Clara, Calif., to pursue a romance begun when he answered a magazine personal ad. He found a good stable for his horses and his collection of exotic animals and decided to stay. (He is now suing the former girlfriend in a spat over a cat and goat he claims she did not return to him.)

Uran said he has given away more than $30 million since his mother’s death.

``My mother was my best friend and my secretary for 28 years. When she died I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do,″ Uran said. It prompted him to reflect on his own mortality, and he concluded: ``I want to go out in glory if I was to die.″

Uran said he has never owned a big house or any of the usual trappings of great wealth. He has rented apartments or hotel rooms all his adult life, feeling safer in a motel than he would in a private home. ``Wealthy people are targets,″ he said.

An enthusiastic horseman, Uran dresses for comfort around the barn. ``I don’t care what people think. Why should I?″ he asked.

He has placed several personal ads himself. A recent ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian reads: ``Wanted: Tall, female, white, well-educated, university graduate, or veterinarian, under 35, extensive knowledge of horses, exotic animals, to be mother of our children, for happy contented life together, by well-educated, wealthy, affectionate, much older man.″

Born to modest wealth in New York City, Uran said he made his fortune as an investor. He was trained both as a stockbroker and a lawyer, he said. He made a business of investing privately in small corporations and reaping stock benefits as the companies grew.

He came away with about $70 million last year from the sale of Guardsman Products Inc., a Grand Rapids, Mich., manufacturer of furniture polish.

Uran will not say exactly how much he is worth, but did not dispute one report that placed his fortune at about $400 million.

Uran employs at least one private bodyguard, and his room at the Best Western has been under police guard since news of his $1 million donation broke last week. Since then, he has been besieged by requests for cash. He said he tears up most of the pleas without reading them.

``I’m interested in doing good for people, especially for children. I’m not interested in somebody who’s in trouble with the court or something,″ Uran said.

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