EDINA (AP) -- Percy Ross, the flamboyant millionaire-turned-philanthropist who doled out cash to readers of his syndicated column for nearly 17 years before closing his wallet two years ago, has died at age 84.
Ross, who died Saturday at his home, was best known for his newspaper column "Thanks a Million," through which he gave out millions of dollars worldwide.
Ross, who ended the column in September 1999, estimated that he had handed out as much as $30 million.
"I've achieved my goal. I've given it all away," Ross told readers in his farewell column. "You've given me so much over the years. In many respects, I'm far richer today than when I started."
Through the column and previous philanthropy, Ross helped pay for organ transplants and recreational centers and handed out silver dollars along with his homespun wisdom.
"He who gives while he lives," he often liked to quote, "also knows where it goes."
Ross' editor, Nancy Webber, said he would get 10,000 letters from readers weekly seeking help, offering suggestions or simply saying thank you.
"Thanks a Million" ran in about 800 newspapers, from major dailies like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to tiny weeklies like the Swift County Monitor in western Minnesota.
The son of poor immigrants from Latvia and Russia launched the column in March 1983 after making a fortune producing plastic film and trash bags.
After selling his company to a New York company for $8 million in 1969, he split the money four ways: He kept $2 million for himself, each of his two sons got $2 million and his wife got $2 million.
Ross used his share of the sale and subsequent investments to establish himself as a philanthropist.
In a 1999 interview, Ross said he came up with the column idea after giving away more than 1,000 bicycles at a holiday party for children at the Minneapolis Convention Center in the late 1970s.
Ross, preceded in death by his wife, Laurian, is survived by son and daughter-in-law Steven and Stephanie Ross, of Dallas, and son Larry Ross, of Bloomington, three grandchildren and a great-grandson.
A funeral is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Temple Israel in Minneapolis.
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