Trump’s Father: His Role Model for Life

Taught him the value of work — 'he was a happy man'

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump is many things: an off-the-cuff plain speaker, a savvy businessman with a real estate business worth billions, a successful author, reality television show star — and more.

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But Donald Trump is also a doting husband, father, and grandfather, and a loving son who remembers his own father, Fred C. Trump, with deep and abiding fondness. And this isn’t something many will report or note.

“I would tell you a real lesson,” Trump said during Thursday’s outdoor town hall on NBC’s “Today” show, surrounded by his wife, Melania, and four of his five children. “My father was a builder in Brooklyn and Queens. He built housing. And he loved to work. And he didn’t say, ‘You have to work, you have to do this.’ But I would learn sitting at his knee, playing with blocks, he was always working. And he was a happy man. I learned that work is a great thing.”

Trump’s father was a successful real estate tycoon who changed the face of two boroughs of New York City with “thousands of plain but sturdy brick rental towers, clustered together in immaculately groomed parks,” according to his The New York Times obituary.

Born in New York and a lifelong New Yorker, Fred Trump began his real estate empire in 1927. Along with residential housing, he built barracks and apartments for U.S. Navy personnel along the East Coast during World War II.

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Known as a frugal man who would visit job sites after the workday was finished — he would pick up leftover nails off the plywood floors and hand them to his carpenters the next morning — the elder Trump enjoyed one extravagance, according to the Times obit. He insisted on driving a shiny blue Cadillac, which he replaced every three years. His license plates read: “FCT.”

A snappy dresser, Fred Trump had a wide grin and “resembled a silent film star,” according to the Times.

Fred Trump started his company while still in high school. Too young at age 15 to sign payroll checks, he became partners with his mother, Elizabeth — and mother and son called their company E. Trump and Son.

Also too young to build houses, he built garages for cars at first.

Not surprisingly given the current presidential candidate’s lifelong trajectory, Fred Trump came from a family of high achievers. His father emigrated to America from Germany to take advantage of the Alaska gold rush. One of the first things Fred Trump did when he got some money together was educate his younger brother John. He sent him first to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, then to Columbia for his master’s degree — and then to MIT, where he received a doctorate.

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Fred Trump died in June of 1999, at age 93. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for six years when he passed. His financial worth was anywhere from $250 million to $300 million at the time of his death, but it was clear that other things in his life meant far more to him than money.

Donald Trump said Thursday that his father “had a wonderful wife, they had a fantastic marriage. My father was a very happy person.” 

“He was happy, he was content,” Trump continued. “He had a great family, he had a great wife. What I learned is that when you work, and if you enjoy what you’re doing, and if you really love what you’re doing — it’s a great thing and you’ll be happy.”

Trump smiled at his wife during the town hall and listened closely as various family members commented on his personal qualities in response to questions from the hosts and the public. His kids were quick to speak of the father they love.

“Watching him play with them [his grandchildren], you really see another side,” Donald Jr. said. “It’s a special moment and it’s really incredible to watch. It’s a totally different side that no one gets to see.”