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Rags-to-riches billionaire buried in Poland

/ 07:46 AM April 16, 2013

Barbara Piasecka Johnson is shown leaving court following a settlement after a 16-week battle over her late husband’s $500 million estate in New York City, in this June 3, 1986, file photo. The Polish farmer’s daughter who worked as a maid for an American heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune before marrying him and eventually inheriting much of his wealth was buried Monday, April `5, 2013, in her childhood town of Wroclaw. AP PHOTO/DAVID BOOKSTAVER

WARSAW—Polish-born billionaire Barbara Piasecka Johnson, a maid who married into the Johnson & Johnson fortune, was buried Monday in her childhood town of Wroclaw.

Several hundred people attended the funeral of the art collector and philanthropist who died on April 1 at age 76 after a long illness, according to local media.

“Basia—because that’s what we called her—was a cheerful, direct, full of life, energetic woman,” said her friend Andrzej Szymura.


“But she always said she would emigrate and make some money abroad,” he told Poland’s TVN24 news channel.

Armed with a degree in art history, Johnson left Poland for the US at age 34 and found work as a housekeeper for J. Seward Johnson and his second wife.

The heir to the cosmetics and drugs giant soon fell in love with the Pole 42 years his junior and wed her days after obtaining a divorce.

His death in 1983 spawned a bitter legal battle between the widow and her six stepchildren over the $500 million fortune, of which Johnson walked away with more than half.

According to last month’s Forbes Billionaires list, Johnson was the world’s 376th richest person with a net worth of $3.6 billion.

At her funeral, priest Adam Drwiega spoke of her efforts to help out fellow Poles by funding scholarships and setting up an autism foundation.

“Poland always held the most important place in her heart,” he said, quoted by the Polish news agency PAP.

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TAGS: Barbara Piasecka Johnson, People, Poland, US, wealth
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