Longform

THE ANGUISH OF ALEX HALEY'S WIDOWWITH HER HUSBAND'S LITERARY LEGACY DISPERSED, SHE'S LOCKED IN A BITTER PROBATE BATTLE

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Dodson says he tried to persuade George at least to keep the literary treasure intact for one bidder. "I talked to George Haley about it before the auction, but he is capable of being very unaffected by things in the emotional sense."

The decision pained Haley's children, Ann and William. William was already raw from taking care of the funeral plans, from consoling his own children. "Your grandfather loved you very much," he remembers telling his little son. "He would have liked to spend more time with you."

William and Ann sacrificed their father to his adoring public, and then, upon his death, they had to sacrifice his artifacts to his estate.

"We were not offered as much as a pocket handkerchief," says Ann. "My brother had to buy my father's car. The estate could have afforded to give that to my brother."
It is clear to Ann Haley "that Uncle George could care less about us."
Both William and Ann now must cope with the fact that his literary legacy has been dispersed. What it means, in a sense, is that part of their sacrifice was for nothing. But they are both stoic, and have resigned themselves to the concept that the things that were sold were just things, that their father contributed more to the world than "things."

Ann Haley has little hope that she or anyone else in the family will get any of the approximately $2 million that will remain when the estate is probated. "If I get 25 cents, that's fine. If I get nothing, that's fine," says Ann Haley.

Julius Haley, Alex's brother, says he doubts that anyone will inherit money. "It will go to the lawyers."

Ann Haley no longer reads the legal documents that are mailed to her. "I have to put this behind me and go on with my life. You must know that what my father created nobody can ever buy. His children will come together to go forward and perpetuate what he began."

My Haley, too, feels she has to perpetuate what her husband began. That is why she is fighting the estate to recover three uncompleted works that she claims she is entitled to finish. There is not a single step in the struggle that is without pain.

It was hurtful to My when William, in claiming his father's body in Seattle, elected to list his mother, Nannie, as the "surviving spouse." She cannot help but wonder if the relationship with Alex's family would have been less strained had they all not been unwittingly forced into separate segments of Alex Haley's life. She remembers, for instance, that she learned about a Haley family reunion from an article in People magazine. When asked why she wasn't invited, she recalls Alex saying it was just something he was "roped into."

My's absence from the family reunion perplexes William. So does just about everything else about his father's relationship with My, whom his father never mentioned. "My literally was the invisible woman," says William.

She was invisible because she was not allowed to be visible, is how My sees things. Each time she'd ask to meet Alex's brothers and sister and children, he would act annoyed, she says.

At the time of Alex's death, My had yet to meet either brother Julius or sister Lois. She had met George only briefly. She had never met Ann. She had chatted with William only once or twice.

"Nan was the only wife I knew," says Julius. The fact that he never met My does not strike him as odd. His brother, after all, was a public figure with a hellish schedule. When Alex got together with George and Julius and their little sister, Lois, that was enough. They were just happy to have what little time they could with him. They loved their brother, says Julius.

Nor did Alex often talk of his siblings, or of My, to his best friend, John Rice Irwin. That struck Irwin as somewhat odd, "considering the fact that we spent ten years together, much of that time on trips."

"Virtually all of our conversations centered around his life as a contemporary kind of thing," says Irwin, who was constantly amused by the fact that when Alex "became disturbed by something, he simply jumped on an airplane."
My saw Alex's addictive flitting from worshipful audience to worshipful audience as a substitute for the love he felt he never got from his father. Instead of giving, and receiving, from his life's soul mates, Alex took his affection from crowds who demanded little in return except his charm and his time. Those who should have been closer were compartmentalized and kept at a distance. If he was not pressed, as in the case of Nannie, he did not act. When pressured by My, Alex did only enough to relieve the stress. In a remarkably careless fashion, he signed documents that openly conflicted with each other: the will, the property settlement, the prenuptial agreement.

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Terry Greene