Sir John Marks Templeton (1912-2008): A Great Entrepreneur and Philanthropist


Sir John Marks TempletonSir John Templeton receiving the Faith and Freedom Award on November 11, 2000. Presented by Fr. Robert Sirico and Foster Friess.

In 1990, I had no idea who the elegant man, waiting patiently next to me in line to check out of our hotel in Antigua, Guatemala was. He turned his kindly glance in my direction and said, "Father, I deeply appreciated your speech at the conference yesterday. It is a relatively rare experience to meet a clergyman who understands economics." I thanked him and agreed, adding that I was just having some conversations with a colleague to initiate a project to remedy the problem. As he was called up to the check out desk, he turned back and said, "If you get something off the ground, please let me know if I can be of help. My name is John Templeton."

And so it was with great sadness that I learned today, some 18 years later, of the passing from this life of one of the twentieth-century's great stalwarts in the struggle for faith and liberty. Rising from a humble background in Tennessee, John Templeton graduated from Yale and Oxford universities, the latter of which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He went on to become one of the most-successful investors of his generation, creating wealth and generating employment for thousands of individuals. Today the very name "Templeton" remains a byword for entrepreneurship, prudent risk-taking, integrity, and innovation in the financial industry in America and around the world.

If Sir John had limited his creativity to financial innovation, he would already merit a significant mention in the history of free enterprise and free markets. But he was never content with the status quo, be it in the world of business or the life of the mind. While building one of the world's most notable investment firms, Templeton Growth Ltd, Sir John grew profoundly interested in philanthropy. In 1987, he created the John Templeton Foundation, which has since gone on to replicate Sir John's astonishing financial success in the philanthropic realm. The Templeton Foundation is one of the world's most prominent, creative, and innovative philanthropic organizations. Its interests are truly universal, ranging from sustaining on-going conversations about life's big questions to opening people's minds to the unique ability of business and free markets to alleviate poverty in a faster, more humane manner than any comparable economic system. It is a foundation made very much in Sir John's image. In 2007, Sir John was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People under the category of "Power Givers."

The Acton Institute has always been humbled by the fact that Sir John and the Templeton Foundation were, from the beginning of Acton's work, deeply interested in and supportive of our activities. Religion was something that fascinated Sir John all his life. Indeed, he even considered entering the ministry at a young age. Sir John was passionate about doing what he thought he was called to do. Revealingly, Sir John stated in a 2000 interview with Religion & Liberty that he agreed with the proposition that "by being a good businessman, [the business leader] did as much good for the poor as some philanthropists." In short, business was, for Sir John, a genuine vocation, one which he combined with a vocation of lifelong philanthropy. Commenting on the notion of entrepreneurship, Sir John once remarked: "Entrepreneurs find better and better ways to produce and to serve. Again, just as the priesthood is a faithful Christian ministry, so, too, is every useful occupation."

Given his interests, it came as a surprise to no one that Sir John was committed to fostering meaningful dialogue between the worlds of theology, business, and market economics. The award of the 1994 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion to Michael Novak, the theologian whose work has done so much to enhance understanding of business and free markets among religious leaders of all faiths and confessions, partly reflected, I have often thought, in Sir John's abiding belief that there was nothing fundamentally incompatible between the truths of faith and the truths contained in the science of economics. He was convinced that humanity needed the realms of faith and economic liberty to come together. As Sir John once said in another interview with one of the very first editions of Religion & Liberty (1991):

Economic systems based on atheism have failed. Religion teaches the infinite worth of each individual. Religion causes each individual to want to serve others. An increasing part of God's ongoing creative process is to encourage each individual to be purposeful and creative. The free market system removes limitations and thereby encourages amazing and increasingly varied forms of creativity. Religion teaches love and brotherhood and truth and diligence which tend to cause accelerating creativity and productivity. Fortunes built on force or on inheritance can be harmful; but fortunes built on superior service are beneficial to rich and poor alike.

When the Acton Institute inaugurated its Faith and Freedom Award in 2000, Acton's Board of Directors showed no hesitation in awarding it to Sir John. In a sense, Sir John had been a prophet in the wilderness for the essential compatibility of religion, free enterprise and free markets years before the Acton Institute's founding in 1990. I have no doubt that it was, at times, a lonely path he trod, and subject to much misunderstanding from within the church and the business world. But his work has made Acton's activities much easier, and for that reason alone, his memory will always be cherished by us.

At the end of his life, Sir John retained his interest in the questions that have puzzled human beings from the very beginning. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who is God? What is His nature? He was always searching for answers to such queries, knowing that human beings alone wonder about such matters, and pushed intellectuals from all disciplines to use their gifts to grow the sum total of man's knowledge of these subjects.

Now, John Templeton is in a place where the fullness of those answers is revealed to one and all. He joins his predeceased wives, Judith Folk and Irene Reynolds Butler, and leaves behind several children, including his son, the current President of the John Templeton Foundation, Dr. John ("Jack") M. Templeton Jr. My prayers and the prayers of the friends of the Acton Institute are with them and the extended Templeton family in their hour of loss.

Sir John Marks Templeton – Requiescat in pace.

(Rev.) Robert A. Sirico

8th July 2008