In 1949, Alice was born, the youngest child of four, to a couple called Sam and Helene Walton.  In 1962, Sam founded a company with his brother, which became an American success, the Wal-Mart empire.

Known as the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart has made the Walton family very, very rich.  When this article was written in early 2019, Alice, no longer a little girl, was rated by Forbes Magazine as the wealthiest woman in the world with an estimated worth of $45 billion.

Sam referred to his youngest girl, Alice as the most like him: “ a maverick, but more volatile.”  Known to be independent, down to earth and extremely private about her personal life, Alice Walton is not easy to pigeon hole as just an heir to a large family fortune.  She was born in 1949 and grew up in Bentonville, Arkansas with her three brothers.

She graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas in the early 70’s with a B.A. in economics and finance.  She worked for a short time at Wal-Mart upon graduating, as a children’s clothing buyer, but admitted while it was fun, it was not something that held her interest.  Breaking free from the family business, Alice worked first as an equity analyst and then as an investment broker for E.F. Hutton in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Alice was married twice in the 1970’s and she was a fixture in the New Orleans social society there. In 1979, while at E.F. Hutton, Alice and 11 other brokers in various locations were accused by the SEC of making “unsuitable” option trades for their customers.  She denied she violated any laws, but took a settlement to avoid a lengthy litigation process and was suspended from trading for six months.

With two failed marriages and the incident at work, she returned to Arkansas and helped with managing the family’s investments.  She worked at Arvest Bank Group, the family owned bank, as head of their investment related activities during the 1980’s.  While there, she helped develop the establishment of Arvest Asset Management as a subsidiary of the bank, which now operates as a full-service broker, providing money management services.

Alice began her own investment firm, Llama Company in 1988, which stopped operating the following year after a decline in the market occurred.  She is the only sibling not on the board of Wal-Mart, opting for regularly attending the annual meetings instead.

Although she is discreet, it seems that Alice is human like the rest of us and has had her share of personal difficulties over the years.  A series of car accidents have made headlines over the years.

One tragic incident took place in Arkansas when she was speeding and hit a pedestrian.  The victim died from her injuries and Alice was not charged or fined.  Ten years later she crashed her car into a gas meter and phone booth, totaling the vehicle.

She was found to be 6 points over the legal alcohol limit and charged with a DUI.  Her attorney argued that she was fatigued and Alice was fined $925 for the accident.  Again in 2011, she was stopped by police and failed a sobriety test along with driving with an expired registration.  She publicly admitted “regret over the incident: and accepted full responsibility for her actions.

The wealth of the Walton empire has been the source of extreme dissatisfaction for many Wal-Mart employees who have become vocal  for minimum wage increases.  Sam Walton, stubbornly would only contribute to educational causes during his tenure, causing much aggravation within the family.   Since his passing, the Walton’s have contributed to more charitable causes, although the issue of higher wages and benefits continues.  Alice oversees the Walton Family Foundation, supporting a wide range of causes from K-12 education, economic development in the Mississippi delta and northwest Arkansas regions and local environmental conservation projects.

Alice’s true passion comes out though when the subject is art.  As a girl, she and her mother would paint watercolors together while on their annual family camping trips to parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park.  She continued painting, admiring artists like John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer and George Inness, even though access to art was not readily available to her growing up.  Flash forward to present day and she is the owner of works by these iconic artists!

In the early 2000’s, she proposed building an American art museum for the community to showcase American art and provide art education, one of her favorite interests. She began to amass important works of art for the project.  Many in the art world were doubtful of her good intentions and she shook many up when she whisked up the important 19th century work, Kindred Spirits, by Asher B. Durand for a cool $35 million.  Alice responded to the criticism saying that it was condescending to think that people in certain parts of the world don’t deserve access to art.  The skepticism and fury soon died down as the fruition of her project gained renown for its excellence.

The museum, located in Bentonville was designed by the acclaimed Israeli architect Moshe Safdie.  Eight modern looking pavilions are set among two large ponds, connecting art with nature.  Along with its priceless artworks, the museum boasts a 50,000-volume library of art reference materials, sculpture and walking trails throughout the property. The foundation contributed an additional $20 million to make visitor admission free.

Alice recently announced a new endeavor, Art Bridges Foundation which will provide a sharing link of American art to all museums to bring improved access to a variety of artworks.  Says Alice, “We’ve seen the transformative effect it can have on individuals and communities.”  Art Bridges is partnering with museums of all sizes and already launching several projects with museums like The Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R, Guggenheim and the Smithsonian American Art Museum sharing their extensive collections with other institutions.

Another pet project is the Camp War Eagle, located in Beaver Lake, Arkansas, a Christian sports, adventure and recreation summer camp for children 7-17.  The camp’s goal is for the children to have fun and gain a greater appreciation for God, others and themselves. Campers can attend at no cost based on their household income.  Placements are based on school performance and community service.

When she is not spending time at her beloved museum in Bentonville or enjoying her nieces and nephews, Alice can be found at her ranch in Milsap, Texas. She breeds cutting horses there and is close to her horse trainer, Jesse Lennox, whom she refers to as her “family”.

While she is very aware of criticisms pointed towards her and her family’s business operations, she does not apologize for supporting what she believes in.   Some dislike how she has used her money and name to help herself in cases like her legal troubles, but, you cannot deny that she is building a lasting legacy for bringing art to the masses and helping children in their developing years.

Denise Benson

Author Denise Benson

Denise Benson is a photographer, creative writer and traveler. Discovering new ideas, people, places and cultures is a lifelong passion, which Denise enjoys sharing with her readers using her unique perspective as a photographic storyteller. An avid sailor, she and her husband Brian have sailed 10,000 blue water miles exploring the South Pacific. Along with sailing, she enjoys travel, food & wine, books and nature related activities, including napping on the fore-deck of her boat, Moonstone.

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