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Silver Threads: Putting Drew Brees’ salary in perspective

I had to dig around in a stack of old newspapers to get last Friday’s Times-Picayune and remind myself of what Drew Brees’ paycheck is going to be for the next five years. (For me that’s easier and faster then going online to unearth the info; I wish the Newhouses would reconsider some of the decisions they’ve made recently.)

Anyhow, the Saints’ quarterback will earn $20 million a year starting sometime soon, I guess, and that’s almost more than I can comprehend. Never mind trying to wrap my mind around the wealth of people like the late Marjorie Merriweather Post (more about her later) or Bill Gates or the Facebook inventor.

Years ago, before Forbes came out with an issue devoted to the incomes of some of the super-rich, you didn’t really know what these people made unless you read the business pages or unless they were starring actors whose doings were covered in movie magazines. I remember wondering how on earth people like Liz Taylor were worth so much, until I realized that they and others like them are the foundations of industries from which hundreds of thousands of little folks make their livings.

The bucks go all the way down to the kids in front of the Icee and popcorn machines.

In the case of Drew Brees, it’s easy to see how many paychecks his talents and those of other football stars cover, from the people who clean up the Superdome after games to the beer vendors to the coaches to NFL executives.

Now, I’m a graduate of only one class in economics in college, and I don’t recall that my grade was much above passing. But I believed in a trickle-down economy long before former President Ronald Reagan invented the phrase or, if it had already been invented, made it famous.

Around the time I was in high school, LIFE magazine ran a story on Marjorie Merriweather Post, a leading American businesswoman, philanthropist and socialite and the founder of General Foods Inc. At age 27, when her father, C.W. Post died, she became the owner of Postum Cereal Company, founded in 1895, and was subsequently the wealthiest woman in America, when her fortune reached approximately $250 million. (That’s $5 billion in 2008 dollars.)

Mrs. Post owned Mar-A-Lago — a magnificent estate in Palm Beach to which Donald Trump now holds the deed — and the article and photo layout of her opulent seaside villa made much of the lavish entertaining she did there. It came across as a little critical, a slight slant that I, a fledgling journalism student, sensed.

But what about those florists and caterers and valet parkers and cleaning crews, I thought?Somebody is making a livelihood off of Mrs. Post. Lots of somebodies, and that’s just the party scene facet of the total picture.

She funded a U.S. Army hospital in France during World War I, and, decades later, the French government awarded her the Legion of Honor. In 1971, she was among the first three recipients of the Silver Fawn Award, presented by the Boy Scouts of America.

It’s a shame that not everybody has Mrs. Post’s business sense or Drew Brees’ brain and throwing arm or the magnetism and good looks of a Hollywood star. But I recently read somewhere that if you have money in the bank and in your wallet and some coins in your purse, you are among 8 percent of the population of the world .

If you have a full fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are wealthier than 75 percent.

Who Dats are certainly not critical of Brees’ bonanza. He makes a lot of New Orleanians very happy, whether they benefit financially from him or not.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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