By: DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press
(AP) A judge blocked the planned sale of an ailing newspaper publisher’s horses on Wednesday, ruling that two of her newspaper executives failed to act in her best interest as trustees of her estate.
Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan also replaced all the trustees for Betty Weldon, concluding the newspaper executives and her daughter had not cooperated in managing her estate.
Weldon, who suffers from progressively worsening dementia, has long subsidized her horse-breeding farm, Callaway Hills Stables Inc., with the profits of the News Tribune Co., publisher of Jefferson City’s morning and evening newspapers.
Several years ago, she set up a trust overseeing the holding company for the horse farm and newspaper business, which also includes The Fulton Sun Gazette Inc. and the California Democrat. Weldon named three co-trustees – her daughter Tony Weldon, publisher of The Fulton Sun; News Tribune Managing Editor Richard McGonegal; and News Tribune General Manager Larry “Mike” Vivion.
A legal dispute arose after McGonegal and Vivion voted as members of that holding company’s board to sell most of the some 200 horses at Callaway Hills Stables. Tony Weldon, who lives at the horse ranch, disagreed with the decision and sued on grounds that the newspaper executives had a duty as trustees to uphold her mother’s love for the horses.
McGonegal and Vivion then filed a countersuit against Tony Weldon, arguing that the trust required them to protect the financial interests of all three of Betty Weldon’s children and that selling the horses was a sound business decision.
Callahan concluded that Callaway Hills has a decent chance at financial success and that Betty Weldon had intended the horse business to remain in operation for as long as she lives. He compared the horse farm to a “family heirloom.”
“It was not Mrs. Weldon’s intent to `maximize profitability,’ especially if that meant selling the horses,” Callahan wrote in his decision. “The evidence was overwhelming that nothing was more dear to her in her life.”
Tony Weldon said her mother would be pleased with the ruling.
“I’m extremely relieved that at least for the near future Callaway Hills is safe, the horses are taken care of, the employees are still with us, and I hope things will work out in the long run,” she said.
McGonegal and Vivion were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Betty Weldon and her late husband, William, were longtime media leaders in Missouri’s capital city. Besides owning newspapers, the Weldons in the 1950s guided the establishment of the city’s CBS television affiliate, KRCG, which they sold in 1966.
But the Weldons were equally well-known for their horses. They gave an American saddlebred to Ronald Reagan shortly before his presidential inauguration in 1981.
Their saddle horse Will Shriver won the Five-Gaited division and the Grand Champion Stake at every major show in which he participated and helped earn a national reputation for their breeding business. Although Will Shriver died in 1991, Betty Weldon’s Mercedes still bears the personalized license plate “Will” – a tribute to her most famous horse.
The judge recounted Will Shriver’s legacy as part of the facts in ruling. His injunction not only prohibits a scheduled October horse sale, but it blocks everyone advocating the sale – McGonegal, Vivion, and Betty Weldon’s children Frank Weldon and Sally Proctor – from firing or hiring farm employees or injecting themselves into the operations of Callaway Hills Stables.
The judge appointed three family acquaintances to serve as Betty Weldon’s trustees – Senior Cole County Judge Byron Kinder, Linda McAnany and Eddie Barnett.