John Templeton, a Tennessee-born investor and philanthropist who amassed a fortune as a pioneer in global mutual funds, then gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to foster understanding of what he called “spiritual realities,” died Tuesday in the Bahamas, where he had lived for decades. He was 95.
His death was caused by pneumonia, said Donald Lehr, a spokesman for the Templeton Foundation.
The foundation awards the Templeton Prize, one of the world's richest, and sponsors conferences and studies reflecting the founder's passionate interest in “progress in religion” and “research or discoveries” on the nebulous borders of science and religion.
In a career that spanned seven decades, Templeton 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” in the 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 Queen Elizabeth II and bestowed much of his fortune on spiritual thinkers and innovators.
Inevitably, the Templeton charities engendered controversy. Critics called his “spiritual realities” a contradiction in terms, reflecting a fundamental incompatibility between science and religion. To many, the very idea of “progress” in religion seemed strange, and giving grants for “discoveries” in the field invited accusations that science was being manipulated to promote religion.
Templeton was raised in a devout Presbyterian household and was the first student in town to go to college. Supporting himself at Yale during the Depression, he graduated near the top of his class in 1934, won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford and earned a master's degree in law. He began his Wall Street career in 1937.
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 for his philanthropy. After many years on Wall Street, he renounced his American citizenship in the 1960s, became a British subject and moved to the Bahamas.
Templeton said his investment record improved after he distanced himself from Wall Street and no longer worried about the tax consequences of his decisions. He was an early investor in Japan in the 1960s and later in Russia, as well as China and other Asian markets. He sold large holdings before the technology bubble burst in 2000, and warned several years ago that real estate prices were dangerously high.