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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The story of the truly oddball will of Charles Millar

The following is one of my favourite stories from an oldie-but-goodie book called "Where There's a Will - A Collection of Wills - Hilarious, Incredible, Bizarre, Witty...Sad" by Robert S. Menchin, published by iUniverse.com Inc, copyrighted 1979 and 2000.

When prominent Canadian lawyer Charles Millar died, friends asked his former law partner whether Millar left a will. "I've found some writing in the form of a will," he replied, "but it's not a will - it's a joke. We're searching for the actual will now."

The "joke" turned out to be the Last Will and Testament of Charles Vance Millar and a few months later his former law partner was defending this "joke" in court - and defending it successfully for twelve years against repeated attacks from outraged citizens, disappointed relatives and righteous reformers who "didn't get the joke".

In the will, Millar explains it this way:

This will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependents or near relations and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my death and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime.

This preamble to Charles Millar's will suggest what follows: twelve clauses consisting mostly of good-natured pranks and a final caper that send hundreds of Canadian women off on a raucous race with the stork that is now known as the celebrated "Baby Derby".

Among Millar's pranks:

To the Hon. W.E. Raney, A.M. Orpen and Reverend Samuel D. Chown, each one share in the Ontario Jockey Club providing three years from my death each of them becomes enrolled as shareholders in the share register of the Club...

Dr. Chown and Judge Raney were dedicated foes of all forms of gambling, especially horse racing. Mr. Orpen operated a track in direct competition to the Jockey Club. On August 27, 1927, Dr. Chown and Judge Raney became members of the club, but five minutes later they sold their shares for fifteen hundred dollars each; Mr. Orpen retained his membership.

To each Protestant Minister exercising his clerical functions...and to each Orange Lodge in Toronto, I give one share of the O'Keefe Brewery Company of Toronto, Limited.

Of the 260 eligible clergymen, 91 accepted their shares. Of the 114 Orange Lodges, 103 did likewise. Most of the beneficiaries under this clause sold their shares and turned the $58.20 they received for each share over to charity.

Clause number nine in the will turned over Millar's home in Jamaica to three acquaintances. These men has an abiding dislike for one another, so naturally Millar thought it would be a good idea if they  lived together for a while.

All this was by way of a curtain-raiser to the fertility farce inspired by the last bequest in Millar's will:

All the rest and residue of my property...at the expiration of ten years from my death...to the Mother who has...given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children.

Canada was unprepared for the hijinks that followed. Throughout his seventy-three years of life Charles Millar was a prim, painfully proper bachelor, hardly the type who would inspire Canadian ladies to fill the maternity wards to overflowing. But there it was: the courts upheld the bequest, the money was good and the race was on.

Toronto newspapers quickly dubbed the contest "The Stork Derby" and publicized the event with feature stories as the participants carved new notches on their cribs and new entries became all too apparent. As the mothers approached the finish line, box scores were published and Canadians with sporting blood placed wagers and cheered their favourites to greater heights of achievement.

Meanwhile, Millar's second cousins and even more remote relatives hired lawyers to litigate the will out of existence. Contesters of the will claimed that the clause "encouraged immorality" and was "against public policy" but Millar was as good a lawyer as he was a prankster. The will was legally sound - again and again the court found in favor of "the unknown mother".

On May 30, 1938, Judge MacDonnell of Surrogate Court, Toronto, distributed the estate. With interest added it came to $568,106. Four prolific Toronto mothers, each with nine children born during the ten-year period, shared  the prize in accordance with the terms of the will.

Mrs. Pauline Mae Clark claimed ten births during the period but her record was somewhat marred by the fact that only five of her children were also her husband's. To settle this sticky situation as well as the claim of Mrs. Lillie Kenny (four of her ten children were stillborn) consolation prizes of $12,500 were awarded to the runners-up.

In the summer of 1936, when she had her last baby, one of the winners, Mrs. Arthur Timleck, announced wearily that she was through; from here on she intended to practice - and preach - birth control. Charlie Millar would have gotten a chuckle out of that.

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