Known for being among the richest Oriental art dealers in the world, here’s a man who has left more than an incredible name for himself. After his passing in 2014, he left a most unexpected surprise for his two favorite waitresses at his regular restaurant, Donohue’s.
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth was a regular diner at Donohue’s, a steakhouse in Manhattan—frequenting the place about four days a week—and would oftentimes arrive for both lunch and dinner on the same day. He’d always sit at his regular spot in the corner, to the left of the bar.
Donohue’s waitresses, Maureen Donohue-Peters, and her niece Maureen Barrie, had become good friends with Ellsworth over the years.
He was as Donohue-Peters put it, “very down-to-earth, very nice. He’d help anybody.” At Donohue’s, everyone knew him as “Bob,” and they always took care to serve him just as he liked it.
The Asian antique dealer would always leave a nice tip on normal days, and had been doing so for pretty much each visit for 50 years. But for Christmas, he was known to reach into his pocket a little deeper. All staff at Donohue’s would benefit from Ellsworth’s generosity, as he’d eagerly tip everybody working on the festive occasion.
Ellsworth died in New York on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, at 85 years old. He left an estate nearing $200 million. In December, his two favorite waitresses, who had served him so well over the years, were surprised to learn they were benefactors in Ellsworth’s will. They each received $50,000.
Whilst it was a wonderful surprise, the Donohue’s family will dearly miss Ellsworth, who shared a special connection with the team.
“But, to be honest, I’d give back the money tomorrow to have him back because Bob was like a member of the family, the last of the crowd that knew my father,” Donohue-Peters said. “I was still shocked because I never expected that amount.”
Ellsworth, who was most likely the richest dealer in Asian art in the United States, had a net worth of $200 million, and lived in a 22-room Manhattan apartment.
Referred to as “the King of Ming” by his obituaries, as reported by the New York Times, Ellsworth was a legendary collector and dealer of Asian art—including Ming dynasty furniture, modern Chinese painting, Chinese mirrors, and neolithic jades.
“I may not be the greatest Oriental art dealer in the world,” Mr. Ellsworth once told The Independent. “But I am the richest.”
Despite his phenomenal wealth—with his personal collection amassing $134,000,000—Robert D. Mowry, an Asian art consultant at Christie’s who knew Ellsworth, said: “It’s not as if he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He had to work hard to get where he was.”
Ellsworth has left many warm memories, and will be dearly remembered by the team at Donohue’s.