On the definition of `gone'

Linda Lay: The former Enron chairman's wife is an unlikely leader of the boohoo brigade.

February 01, 2002

THE RICH ARE different from everybody else. Almost everybody else, upon finding themselves in danger of losing all their money, would get a job. The rich get on television.

That, at least, is what self-styled former rich person Linda Lay did this week in a ludicrously misguided effort to spin herself and her family as hapless victims of the collapse of Enron Corp.

Indeed, there were thousands of hapless victims; the problem is that Linda is the wife of Kenneth Lay, former chief executive officer and guiding light of the shell game masquerading as an energy trading company that failed so spectacularly.

Never mind that Enron employees lost life savings that had been tied up beyond their control in company stock, that investors kept in the dark about shady dealings lost thousands upon thousands of dollars, and that mutual funds, including pension funds for teachers and blue-collar workers, lost an estimated billion-plus dollars.

Never mind that everybody from the cleaning ladies who came in at night to pick up after all the smart young Enroners, to the pizza delivery guys across the street from the Houston headquarters, is out of a job.

Never mind all that. Linda Lay went on NBC's Today show twice this week - twice - to complain about how poor she and her husband are going to be now that "everything" they have is "gone."

Well, not "everything," it turns out. Even if they file for bankruptcy, under Texas law they get to keep the $7 million luxury apartment they own in Houston.

And not quite "gone," either.

Of the three properties they own in Aspen, Colo., so far reportedly only two are for sale - for $6 million each. There are other properties and other assets, as one might expect of someone like Ken Lay, who reportedly got about $200 million from Enron over the last few years.

But now, to hear his wife tell it, all their poor family will have left is that paltry apartment in Houston. She even dragged their grown children (from each of their previous marriages) on camera to sit around and look mournful.

And who's to blame for it all? According to Linda, the truth is that Ken, the big lug, is just plain dumb. She didn't say it in so many words, but between sobs she told interviewer Lisa Myers that her husband had no idea what was going on at Enron. No idea! He thought everything was just fine!

So at least we know what Ken Lay's defense is going to be as he embarks on his new career of testifying before Congress and defending himself against lawsuits, at least according to his wife: sheer stupidity. Thanks a lot, hon.

The nation has far more pressing issues than Mrs. Lay's pathetic soap opera, but perhaps she has inadvertently offered an entertaining escape for us all. Texas hasn't looked so tacky since J.R. ruled primetime TV. And though whether the Lays have any money left is still questionable, whether they have any class isn't.

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