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.
Is that painting hanging over the fireplace of your great-grandfather?
Yes. It was painted by Benjamin Constant. Out of the blue came a call the other day from the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, asking if they could get a picture of it. It’s for a photo to go in their catalog, printed in English and French. One day, we’ll get a copy of it.
What did your father, Kingdon Gould, do?
My father was primarily a businessman. By profession, a mining engineer, a graduate of Columbia, involved in coal mining. He also apparently wanted to be an archaeologist. At Columbia, he became knowledgeable in Arabic and took his notes in Arabic. The Middle East at that time, about 1910, was a focus of archaeologists. He was a very kind man with a capacity for punning, for plays on words. He died when I think I was 14. I was really too young to appreciate his qualities. He was an excellent linguist and spoke several languages.
You were appointed by President Nixon to be the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. Later, President Ford tapped you as his ambassador to the Netherlands. What were those experiences like?
Wonderful countries, and wonderful people in both countries. I think my wife and I did a credible job. We became friends with so many people, and these friendships continue.
Do any particular memories of your time abroad stand out?
When President Nixon resigned, the chief justice of the United States, Warren Berger, was our houseguest in The Hague. We had heard he was staying in a hotel and thought he’d be more comfortable staying with us. On a Friday night, Nixon gave his farewell speech. And then the word came out from Washington: The chief justice has to swear in the vice president tomorrow at noon. With the time differential, all the commercial planes had left. It was decided Air Force One would come to The Hague. It was announced that Nixon was going to give a resignation speech at 6 o’clock, Washington time. Berger said “Well, wake me up.” Berger came downstairs in his bathrobe and the four of us listened to Nixon resignation speech. “Do you understand the irony, Kingdon?” he asked. “What do you mean?” I said. “That man appointed me to the highest office, and I wrote the opinion [that forced Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes and papers as evidence in the trial of presidential aides accused of covering up the scandal].” He went back to bed and was up at 3 a.m. Air Force One was at the end of the tarmac. Mrs. Berger and the chief justice go up the steps, and all of us at the embassy give each other high fives, because we got him to the plane in time. It was a moment in history. The chief justice returned to The Hague the next day to continue his vacation.
What’s the status of your project known as Konterra?
It is 600 acres on each side of Interstate 95 at the intersection with the Inter-County Connector. It will be developed someday. It’s zoned for 10 million square feet of office space and 2,000 residences of one sort or another. My two sons, Caleb and K-3 (Kingdon Gould III), are involved in it. We began buying it 40 years ago. It used to be owned by the Gudelskys, and they sold it. We bought it from the insurance companies that foreclosed on the properties.
What are your thoughts about Columbia?
I think it’s pretty much a great place as it is. It’s considered one of the most successful planned communities in the country.
You knew Jim Rouse, the developer of Columbia. What was he like?
Rouse was a very ordinary sort of guy. He didn’t like being called “Mr. Rouse,” and I don’t like being called “Mr. Gould.” He was a straight shooter.
You were one of the founders of Glenelg Country School in Ellicott City. How did that come about?
My wonderful wife and I both had the opportunity to go to independent schools, and our children had the opportunity to go to independent schools when we were living here. It seemed to me there was an opportunity to start one here in Howard County. We got together with three other like-minded families. We got a very nice lady, a Vassar grad, and she said she’d run it if we could find a place. We all drove around and looked at houses and barns. One day, I was driving down a road with beautiful trees. “Where does this go?” I asked myself. I saw this beautiful place. We started the school with 36 children in six grades. Now we have 750 in 12 grades.
You turned 90 in January. How do you feel?
I’m alive. I can’t hear, probably; I can’t play tennis or golf anymore. I just got my driver’s license renewed.
Any plans to retire?
When I get older.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Delayed, to sum it up. I’m a lucky person.