Developer Kingdon Gould Jr. reflects on his 60-year legacy

A Q&A with the longtime Howard County resident and former U.S. ambassador

  • Kingdon Gould Jr., has a rich family history to pass on to his four sons and five daughters; his grandfather was a railroad tycoon who rubbed shoulders with the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts, GOuld himself is a prominent businessman, former U.S. ambassador and real estate developer.
Kingdon Gould Jr., has a rich family history to pass on to his… (Photo by Brian Krista )
June 10, 2014|By Tony Glaros

Kingdon Gould, Jr., 90, is a noted businessman, real estate developer and former U.S. ambassador under two presidents. He is a great-grandson of railroad tycoon Jay Gould. Over the course of his more than six decades as a resident of Howard County, Gould’s diverse business interests have included partial or complete ownership of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., PMI Parking, The Kings Contrivance restaurant in Columbia, and a portion of the Capital Crescent Trail between Georgetown and Silver Spring. The Gould family is involved in the construction of Konterra, a sprawling, mixed-use development straddling Interstate 95 in Laurel and Beltsville.

Gould, the recipient of two Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars during World War II, is the father of four sons and five daughters. He continues to live in the same house on Murray Hill Road that he and his wife, Mary Thorne, purchased in 1952 in North Laurel, which was, at that time, a quiet outpost between Baltimore and Washington.

You have a beautiful home and spread here in North Laurel. When was the house built?
It was built in 1911 by [U.S. Senator from Maryland] Arthur Gorman for his second daughter, Daisy, who married a big political figure in the U.S. Senate. When I passed the bar exam in New York, the offers I received were in Washington, D.C. I was fortunate enough to find this home. It was 61 years ago. It seems like a long time. The neighborhood has obviously changed. This was pre-Columbia, and it was a rural area. I think there were 25,000 people living in Howard County in 1850, and 25,000 in Howard County in 1950. Today it’s 360,000.

What about your early life?
I was born in New York City in 1924. I lived there until I went to boarding school in 1938 in Millbrook, in upstate New York, north of Poughkeepsie. I went to Yale and majored in English literature. It was a wonderful place. I was at Yale for just two months. In the spring of 1942, I volunteered for the armed services. The war was going badly in Africa and in the Pacific, and it didn’t seem to me particularly relevant to be going to college at that time. After thorough training, I wound up in the European Theater. Our outfit, the 36th Mechanized Calvary, came in a little after Normandy had been secured. We went into action at the time of [the Battle of the] Bulge. Fortunately, we were not in the Bulge fight, but we were told to hold the line for the troops in the Bulge.

What did you do after you came home from World War II?
When I returned in the spring of 1945 from England, I was fortunate enough to find that the young lady I had met three years before was still perhaps interested in marrying. We married in 1946 and returned to Yale, where we lived for five years. I went to law school [at Yale] and finished in 1951. I received a wonderful salary offer of $3,600 — not a day, not a week, not a month, but a year. I thought that was pretty great!

Who is your favorite president?
Eisenhower, because of his capacity to organize the Allied forces, which was, I think, a very difficult task. I think he was aware of the danger he spoke about in his farewell address of the link-up between business and military, of being excessive. I think we’re now seeing another example of it today in the [Edward] Snowden episode and what he represents.

What are your feelings about President Obama?
It’s too early to say. If the idea is to see that everybody has insurance, I don’t think you can call it a stupid idea. There seems to be kind of a standoff between the political parties. I don’t know which way the country seems to want to go. Abe Lincoln said the opinion of the people is everything.

What do you know about Jay Gould, your great-grandfather?
Jay Gould was much maligned and was the Steve Jobs of his day. He was born on a wretched piece of farmland in New York, in the Catskills. He had tuberculosis for most of his life, and he educated himself, primarily. By the time he was 20, he had composed a book about the history of Delaware County, N.Y. And by the time he was 20, he had not only published, but taught himself surveying.  In addition to the railroad, he was in communications. Then he went on to set up a company in Goldsboro, Pa. From there, he went on to invest in various railroads. He was the last guy on the block at the time of the robber barons. His playmates were the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers. And then he went on to develop the biggest railroad system. Anyway, he was a good guy. He had an impeccable family life, unlike his playmates. He left a wonderful property in New York, which is National Trust property. It’s in Lyndhurst, just below the Tappan Zee Bridge. He commuted down to Wall Street in a vessel he had tied up on the Hudson.

What did you learn from him?
I guess what I learned was that so-called financial success is relatively short-lived, and depending on the quality of the people that inherited it, it can all evaporate.

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