The Happy Agitator

Publishing giant Steve Forbes grew up in Far Hills, and now lives in Bedminster—New Jersey is in his blood.

Punit Paranjpe/Reuters/Corbis.
Punit Paranjpe/Reuters/Corbis.

My grandfather, Bertie “B.C.” Forbes, was an immigrant from Scotland. He was the youngest of ten children and came to the United States when he was about 23 in 1904. He came on his own, and when he got off the boat, he went to all of the publications.

He couldn’t get a job right away, but he knew at an early age you have to put it on the line, so he went to an editor in New York City and worked for free. He trusted that if he did a good job, he would get a job, and he got a job. He worked for Hearst Newspapers and did a syndicated column and started Forbes magazine in 1917. He was an early version of a blogger and started the magazine as an outlet for his writings.

B.C. got married in 1915, and when the kids started to come along my grandparents moved to Englewood. My father, Malcolm, was the third of five boys and an Englewood native.

I was born in Morristown in 1947 at All Souls, one of the hospitals that later was merged into Morristown Memorial. My parents lived in Bernardsville at the time of my birth, then moved to Far Hills when I was 3 or 4. The house stayed in my family, and my brother Christopher owns it. His daughter and son-in-law live there. It was enough for five kids to run around and break things.

I was the oldest of five and attended Far Hills Country Day School. My father was involved in Jersey politics when we were young. I remember going with him in an old milk truck when he was campaigning. He was elected to the state Senate, serving from 1951 to 1957, and ran for governor twice. There were a lot of election events at the house.

I remember getting into trouble when he got the Republican nomination for governor, and hundreds of people were brought in for a rally at the house. A friend of mine and I decided to charge for parking. He found out and put a stop to it. On another occasion, we had various “Forbes for Governor” buttons. A friend and I decided to sell those, too.

I grew up liking comic books. There was a nice store in Bernardsville, Betty’s, which is not there anymore. A great place for comic books. She had them all. I loved to walk around and see the farms around New Jersey, the smells, the milking of the cows. Most people only know the Turnpike.

To me, school was school. Something to be endured. I did terribly. I had to spend a lot of summers getting tutored to catch up. It was a struggle. I would much rather have watched baseball than do homework. I grew up a Dodger fan and morphed into a Yankee fan.

At 14, I went to Brooks School in Massachusetts, where I headed up the Young Republicans. Seeing politics up close, I got interested in history, which is people. Just going through things like the state legislative manual, what the New Jersey Legislature did. Also, my father had volumes of the election returns going back to the 1860s. I enjoyed plowing through those.

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After I graduated Brooks in 1966, I decided to buckle down. I went to Princeton and majored in history. I also helped start a magazine when I was a sophomore there called Business Today, which we distributed to 200,000 students around the country. It is still being operated today by undergraduates.

Princeton is a great institution; it is what you imagine a campus should be, the nice settings, the gothic architecture—and they emphasize undergraduate work. I think it was a much better undergraduate experience than kids get at other institutions where the focus is graduate schools.

In those days, Princeton was all male. It wasn’t until my senior year that women were first admitted. We envied those who followed us. I went independent to break the monopoly of the eating clubs; that goal was accomplished.

I live in Bedminster in a home I’ve owned for 30 years. I brought up five daughters there; the youngest just finished at Princeton. She is smarter than her father. Today I could not get in. Our house is nice and sizeable so the five girls could go off on their own if they couldn’t stand one another.

Bedminster is still a very nice area. You have access to everything. There is the Carriage House—they have great burgers and good breakfast, too. A lot of places you can pop into, like Dunkin Donuts. I love their iced lattes and I was very sorry that the McDonalds in Bedminster folded months ago. There is a Burger King I frequent.

There is Willie’s Taverne and a place called Limestone. In Mendham there is a place called Sammy’s that serves great steak and lobster. There are also good pizza places in Bernardsville—Buona Pizza and others.

I am a fan of Chris Christie; I backed him in the primary a year and a half ago. I had a chance to meet with him and was very impressed with the list of things he wanted to do. I thought, if he gets in he will try to get real things done, and indeed he has. Getting a budget where the spending is lower than it was a year ago is phenomenal. I think it will become a template. Our New Jersey governor will be a model to show that you can face up to these disastrous financial situations.

I do not plan to run for office again. I am happy now being an agitator.

Once in a while, I go to Somerset Patriots games. There is a lot to do here. New Jersey is an underappreciated state. But the most immediate thing is we have to get our financial situation resolved or we are going to do real damage to our economy.

Malcolm Stevenson “Steve” Forbes Jr. is editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine and CEO of Forbes Media. He was a Republican candidate in the presidential primaries of 1996 and 2000.

As told to Joe Strupp.

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