Thursday, January 31, 2002

Count blessings


Dry advice for weepy Enron wife

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        Marty thinks Linda Lay is a big crybaby. He is so unkind.

        My most ardent — but by no means only — critic left his customary voice-mail message. Churlish. To the point. “Wah. Wah. Wah. I can't believe that guy sent his wife out to do his dirty work. He's probably at home packing to leave for someplace warm like, say, the Bahamas.”

        Kenneth Lay, who retired last week as chairman of Enron, is probably finding enough heat at home in Houston just now. Enron filed the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history last month, leaving employees to watch their stock portfolios go up in smoke. Not to mention the good ol' boys at the Petroleum Club.

"Let them eat cake'

        Mrs. Lay appeared on NBC's Today Show with a teary account of the couple's personal distress. “Everything we had mostly was in Enron stock,” Linda Lay told Lisa Myers. And, by now, everybody knows that's the last place you'd want your “everything” to be.

        Luckily, it appears there may still be a few crumbs in the Lay cookie jar.

        Mr. Lay has tucked away Compaq stock worth $5 million and $3.5 million in Lilly stock. His severance package is valued at $25 million, and the Lays own eight properties in Houston and two in Galveston, valued at more than $10 million.

        While Marty has no sympathy for their plight, kinder, gentler readers reached out to the couple with positive suggestions. Retired FBI agent Dave Lichtenfeld of Wyoming suggests bake sales to raise money, maybe a franchise operation. They could call it “Let Them Eat Cake.” An e-mail from Paula Rakestraw of Amelia said, “Losing everything you have would be devastating, whether it's a million-dollar estate or a small house.”

        Well, I am happy to report that Texas permits debtors to keep a primary residence in bankruptcy. The Lays' five-bedroom, six-bath condo in a Houston high-rise is valued somewhere around $8 million.

        “My heart goes out to the Lays. Hopefully, they'll be able to keep at least one of their homes in Aspen,” writes Mike Whitener of Batavia.

        Good news, Mike. Property records show that most of the Lay property is mortgage-free, according to USA Today. A five-bedroom cabin and a four-bedroom house in Aspen are on the market for $6.1 million each. But the Lays apparently plan to hang on to another cottage there valued at $4.1 million.

Omaha disaster

        Enron was born when Houston Natural Gas Co. merged with an Omaha company called InterNorth. Cincinnati native Mike Kelly, now a popular columnist for the Omaha World-Herald, said Houston Gas had been around since 1930. When Kenneth Lay bought it in 1986, he took 2,000 jobs to Houston. “For Omaha, it was a disaster.”

        Fifteen years later, when the scandal was breaking, Mike wrote, “Omaha got better and prospered, and we thought we had gotten over our heart-rending breakup with Enron. Now it's worse. Retirees and other stockholders in Omaha and elsewhere have seen their Enron stock wiped out. People are crying, financially ruined.”

        But the most visible person in tears this week was sitting in front of a massive fireplace, on expensive carpets, surrounded by rich wood paneling. And it was hard to imagine she would be blowing her nose into generic tissue.

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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