The Trump Files: The Time Donald Burned a Widow’s Mortgage

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This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on August 9, 2016.

Whether it’s giving to charities or young school kids, generosity doesn’t always come naturally for Donald Trump. But sometimes he’s capable of acts of genuine kindness, such as the good deed he performed for one Georgia widow in 1986.

That year, 66-year-old Annabel Hill was fighting to keep her farm in Waynesboro, Georgia. The farm, which was $300,000 in debt, had nearly been auctioned off that February. To save it, Hill’s husband killed himself, believing his life insurance policy would wipe out the debt. But he didn’t realize most insurance companies, including his own, wouldn’t pay out policies in the event of suicide, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Hills raised some money to pay down the debt, but they still owed $187,000 by the fall of 1986, and the farm was in danger of being sold again.

That’s when Trump stepped in. Atlanta businessman Frank Argenbright Jr. held a press conference for the Hills in September that earned national attention, including from Trump. “Trump heard about Mrs. Hill’s plight in September and worked with Argenbright to raise the remaining $187,000,” the Associated Press reported. “Donations of all sizes materialized—New York disc jockey Don Imus raised $15,000—but the debt remained at $78,000.” Trump agreed to pay half of the final $78,000 himself, and Tom McKamy, a wealthy Texas farmer, pitched in the rest.

“I’m just so grateful to these men,” Hill told United Press International. “It’s really hard with the main person in your family gone. This kind of eases the ache a little bit.” Hill’s daughter Besty told the Journal-Constitution that her family “saw a whole different side of [Trump] that was kindhearted, to reach out to us, to help us.”

There was still one Trumpian touch to the story. Two days before Christmas, Trump held a “burn the mortgage” party for the Hills in the atrium of Trump Tower. Trump flew the family up to New York on his own dime and set up a meticulously planned, TV-ready ceremony. “Trump ordered the waterfalls in his towers turned off, to make it easier for the TV sound technicians,” the Journal-Constitution reported. “He made sure that at least three tested cigarette lighters were on hand to spark the fire. The mortgage papers were fake, but Trump ordered an assistant to light one up to make sure they would burn quickly and dramatically.”

“I love burning mortgages,” Trump said. “There’s nothing that gives me a greater kick.”

The family was so eager to get back to work at the farm that Annabel’s son Leonard, named after his father, had remained in Georgia with his pregnant wife and spent the day before the party preparing to plant wheat, his mother told the AP. He still lives and works on the farm today.

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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