Maybe it’s because I’ve passed the 50-year milestone and I’m feeling my own mortality, but I’ve been reading the obituaries lately. Mostly in the New York Times. I specifically look at how old the people were when they died and what they accomplished during their lives.
What gets scary is when I see people not much older than me (recent example: Steve Jobs, 56) who have accomplished their life’s work, or at least some part of it, before passing on to the next level. It serves as a vaguely threatening reminder that I need to get moving on my own life goals.
Recently, I stumbled upon what I believe is the most impressive NY Times obituary ever, at least from my spiritually minded point of view.
I was looking into the life of John M. Templeton and stumbled upon his obituary while doing a Google search. He’s the author of a book I’m re-reading titled The Worldwide Laws of Life, a big, wisdom-packed hardcover with 200 chapters on the “universal truths of life”, culled from the teachings of many different religions, and philosophers from all walks of life.
Templeton is a fascinating character study. He was a Wall Street guy who started what’s now called Franklin Templeton Investments. But half-way through his life, after he had made a sizable fortune, he sold the company and embarked on his true life path: spreading the word about “new possibilities for spiritual awareness and growth” and doling out hundreds of millions to those at the forefront of a wide swath of spiritual movements.
You’ll find an excerpted version of Templeton’s 2008 New York Times obituary below. (You can find the entire version here and please note: I’ll have a follow-up post on Templeton’s personal philosophy in a couple of weeks.)
Sir John M. Templeton, Philanthropist, Dies at 95
Published: July 9, 2008
Sir John M. Templeton, a Tennessee-born investor and philanthropist who amassed a fortune in global stocks and gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to foster understanding in what he called “spiritual realities,” died on Tuesday in Nassau, the Bahamas, where he had lived for decades. He was 95.
In a career that spanned seven decades, Sir John dazzled Wall Street, organized some of the most successful mutual funds of his time, led investors into foreign markets, established charities that now give away $70 million a year, wrote books on finance and spirituality and promoted a search for answers to what he called the “Big Questions” — realms of science, faith, God and the purpose of humanity.
Along the way, he became one of the world’s richest men, gave up American citizenship, moved to the Bahamas, was knighted by the Queen of England and bestowed much of his fortune on spiritual thinkers and innovators: Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the physicist Freeman Dyson, the philosopher Charles Taylor and a pantheon of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
A Yale graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, an audacious investor, a Presbyterian who preached open-mindedness and eschewed literal interpretations of Scripture, Sir John — who began annual meetings with prayers, he said, to clear the minds of shareholders — made billions as a pioneer in his globally diversified Templeton funds, often taking the old advice, “buy low, sell high,” to extremes. While he was an elder of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), he took a broad view of spirituality, espousing non-literal views of heaven and hell and a shared divinity between humanity and God.
Contending that almost nothing of God was actually “known” through Scriptures and theology, he founded the Templeton Prize in 1972 to foster “progress in religion” — an idea that included philosophy and exemplary conduct relating to love, gratitude, forgiveness and creativity.
Its first recipient, in 1973, was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who received $85,000 for her charities. In the 35 years since, the prize, given in London, has grown to $1.6 million. Foundation projects have included a multimillion-dollar study of forgiveness, and a two-year study to demonstrate the effect of prayer on 600 patients about to undergo surgery.
Templeton wrote at least eight books on spiritual matters. Among his many gifts was the 1984 endowment of Templeton College, a business and management school at Oxford. In 1987, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his philanthropies. After many years on Wall Street, he renounced his American citizenship in the 1960s, became a British subject and moved to the Bahamas.
In Nassau, his net worth swelled into the billions, but his lifestyle remained relatively modest. He drove his own car and spent his days reading, writing and managing his foundation. Visitors were given sandwiches, tea and courtly advice in the afternoon at his white-columned antebellum home on Lyford Cay, set on a hillside lush with citrus trees and bougainvillea, overlooking a golf course and the ocean.
In my next post, I’ll take a closer look at John Templeton’s spiritual philosophy. Look for it soon.