top of page

Duking It Out

Special note: as you know, I’m in the midst of another ramble. But I’m trying to keep posting the Durham story while I roam. Here’s today’s.

Okay, so last time I was talking about the Duke family, who did so much to shape Durham (for good, bad, and indifferent).

I’d just said that the American Tobacco Co. got broken up, but that didn’t make much difference for the Duke family, who remained wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. And, speaking of wild, some of the Duke heirs lived rather amazing lives.

Chief among these was Doris Duke (1912-1993). She was the daughter of James (“Buck”) Duke, who you’ll recall as the founder of the fortune. I flat out refuse to try to describe her life. It is simply beyond my skill as a writer. Instead, I’ll direct you to her wikipedia entry ( and the scores of books, biographies, and articles about her that have been written over the years.

Suffice to say, though, that she lived a life that would have put Cleopatra and Cathrine The Great to shame. She had big money (at one point she was called, “the richest girl in the world,”) and a lot of power, and she used both freely. She collected art, was a competitive surfer, build magnificent gardens everywhere, invested in Manhattan real estate, wrote for newspapers and magazines, set up charities, may have killed one of her lovers (Eduardo Tirella) but no one is sure, spoke French, played the piano, was a jazz fanatic, traveled the world compulsively (she had her own Boeing 737), and went through men like fox goes through a chicken house. She seems to have had dozens of amours, including Errol Flynn, General Patton, conservationist Louis Bromfield, and a host of others.

Oh, and she was six feet tall.


Like I say, I refuse to go beyond that with her biography. I simply lack the talent. People who are so much larger than life, I cannot describe. Nor will I discuss the rather sad tale of her passing in 1993. Nor will I discuss the current situation of her fortune. Her heirs are her nephew’s children--Patterson and Georgia Inman. But they, it seems, suffered long years of abuse and neglect at the hands of their drug addicted parents and stepparents.

For all that, I’ll simply direct you to Doris Duke’s online biography (again, here: and to the following article in Rolling Stone Magazine (


And, well, basically, that’s as far as I want to go with the Dukes. They are fascinating people, but they could easily take over my story, and I want to get back to talking about Durham and our trip there.

But, one last thing I will say. I learned from our friend Vincent that, in the end, tobacco wasn’t the only source of the Dukes’ wealth, or even its greatest source. What happened, he tells me, is that when the Dukes set up their cigarette factories, they found they needed electricity to power them. But, there weren’t that many generators around from which to buy the aforesaid energy.

So, they started building their own generators. And pretty soon they had more electricity than they could use. Ergo, they started selling to the surrounding communities, and, eventually...

The Dukes discovered theirs was an energy company, not a tobacco company, and when people found out (or, rather, when they finally admitted) that smoking led to cancer and death, they were already safely in another industry entirely.

And here, btw, the heroes include James and his brother Benjamin, who seems to have had a knack for running energy companies. And the energy company they founded, Duke Energy, is still producing kilowatts to this day.


Okay, that’s the Dukes. I don’t plan to mention ‘em again...

Well, maybe…sorta…in a way….we'll see.

More to come.

About the photo: About the photo: Again, nothing to do with the story. But I like this photo of Martha at restaurant south of Austin. She looks so cool and relaxed.

Care to help out?

I provide these blog postings for free. That’s fine and I’m happy to do so. But, long ago and far away, I was told that if you give away your material, that means you don’t really think it has any value.

So, to get beyond that, I’ve decided to make it possible for you to leave me a “tip” for my posts.

If you like what I write or the videos I produce, and feel you could make a small contribution to support my efforts, please go here:

That will take you to a Gumroad page where you’ll have the option of leaving me a few pence by way of encouragement.

Again, I don’t mind if you don’t. I just want to provide you with the option so that I won’t feel quite so much like I’m just tossing my works into the wind.

Either way, thanks hugely for dropping by the blog :-)



Copyright©2022 Michael Jay Tucker

2 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page