Ethel Fleming: Everything To Know About Ray Kroc’s First Wife

By Anuja Uprety | Published on: March 4, 2024 | Updated on: March 4, 2024
Facts checked by editors at A-List Arena
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Ethel Fleming is famous as the ex-wife of Ray Kroc, the late American businessman, and McDonald’s franchisor. They remained married for exactly 39 years and divorced in 1961. So, what was the reason behind the ending of such a long marriage?

Let’s explore Ray’s first wife Ethel’s obituary and also find out if the pair share any kids.

Key Takeaways

  • The Illinois native Ethel Fleming was raised along with her three older brothers and a younger sister. Her parents were originally from Scotland.
  • She was married to McDonald’s franchiser Ray Kroc for around four decades.
  • She had a daughter Marilyn Janet Lynn Kroc who died at the age of 48 due to complications from diabetes.
  • Ethel died on her 64th birth anniversary at her residence in Illinois.

Early Life; When Was She Born?

She was born Ethel Janet Fleming in 1901, in Melrose Park, Cook County, Illinois, United States. She was the daughter of Janet Blair Fleming and Alexander Frew Fleming Sr.

Similarly, she spent most of her childhood in her hometown alongside her four siblings.

Parents Were Originally From Scotland

Her parents, Janet and Alexander were Scotland natives. While her father was from New Monkland in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, her mom Janet was born in Glasgow.

Both of them got married in their native country Scotland and after having two sons Douglas and Malcolm, the two migrated to the United States. After that, the now-late couple settled down in Illinois.

Ethel’s Siblings

The celebrity ex-wife, Ethel had four siblings in total. Her older brother Douglas Peter Fleming was born on 20 September 1883 in Scotland and died at the age of 68 on 19 December 1951 in Chicago.

Likewise, she had other two elder brothers Malcolm Blair Fleming, born in 1885, and Andrew Edward Fleming, born in 1890. While Malcolm passed away at 68, Andrew lived until he was in his early 90s.

Further, Ethel has one younger sister named Mae Belle Fleming Nerger. Born on 7 March 1905, the youngest Fleming siblings got married to Fayett Robinson Nerger at the age of 23 and had two sons. She died at the age of 73 on 30 March 1978 in Florida.

Had Ever Worked In Movies; Was She An Actress?

Ray Kroc’s ex-wife had never been into movies as she was not an actress. However, there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding Ethel’s profession as several media outlets claimed her an actor.

The reality is that there was an American actress who goes by the same name ‘Ethel Fleming’ who has acted in several movies and series but she was not McDonald’s franchiser Ray’s ex-spouse Fleming.

Ray Kroc’s first wife Ethel Fleming and actress Ethel Fleming are different people. Here, we present some facts. Look at it.

Ray Kroc’s ex-wife Ethel Fleming Actress Ethel Fleming
Born on: December 2, 1901 December 27, 1890
Birthplace: Illinois Union City, Pennsylvania
Died: 2 Dec 1965 (aged 64) December 26, 1965 (aged 74)
Death Place: Chicago Florida
Married: Ray Kroc  William Courtleigh Jr.

Hence, it proves that the Illinois native had never worked in movies. She rose to fame for her marriage to renowned businessman Ray Kroc.

Besides, she was a homemaker.

Died At The Age Of 64; What Had Happened To Her? 

Ethel died on her 64th birth anniversary on 2 December 1965 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA. Since the ex-celebrity spouse always followed a private lifestyle, the cause of her death also remained secret. However, we like to assume that she died naturally.

Ethel and Ray Kroc’s Love Story At Glance 

In the year 1922, Ethel tied the knot with Ray Kroc who at the time was yet to earn the recognition as a renowned businessman. The couple were just in their 20s when they walked down the aisle. Previously, the pair had dated each other for almost three years.

The two first met when Ray was working as a piano player near Paw Paw Lake in Michigan and Ethel was a residence nearby as her parents used to run a hotel in Paw Paw Lake. They first came across just as a friend and soon fell in love.

But unfortunately, after being husband and wife for almost four decades, they decided to end their marriage and separated.

shared one daughter with Ray who untimely died

From her marriage with Ray Kroc, Ethel welcomed a daughter Marilyn Janet Lynn Kroc.

Ethel's daughter Marilyn
Ethel’s daughter Marilyn passed away in 1973.

Her only child Marilyn arrived into this world on October 15, 1924, and later after she grew up, she became an Equestrian.

Talking about her personal life, Marilyn married two times. She first tied the knot with Sylvester Nordly Nelson. For the second time, she married Walter James Barg with who she remained together until her death in 1973.

Ray Kroc’s only biological child died of complications from diabetes when she was just 48.

Reason Behind Ethel And Ray’s Divorce

In the divorce docs, Ethel mentioned irreconcilable differences as the reason behind their divorce. However, reports stated that it was due to Ray’s extramarital affair with a lady named Joan Smith (who later became Ray’s third wife).

Ethel Fleming and his ex-spouse Ray
Ethel Fleming and his ex-spouse Ray

Her Net Worth; How much money did she receive in a divorce settlement?

She reportedly got millions of dollars in settlement. Some sources even claim that at the time of her death, her net worth of $10 million.

At the time of their separation, Fleming’s spouse was already at the peak of his career due to his success at McDonald’s. So, probably, she received a good amount of money for a divorce settlement.

Husband Married Two Times After Their Separation

After their separation, Ray asked his mistress Joan to move in with him but during that time Joan was already married to her husband Navy Veteran, Rollie Smith, and was a mother to 11-year-old daughter Linda. So, under family pressure, Joan refused his proposal and broke off their relationship.

As a result, Ethel’s ex-spouse ended up marrying his second wife Jane Dobbins Green in 1963. But sadly, their nuptial went through a rough patch after Ray restarted his affair with Joan again. In 1968, he divorced Jane to marry his lover Joan Smith who now is popular by the name Joan Kroc.

Though her ex-partner remarry, Ethel remained single till her death.