July 17, 2008
Sir John Marks Templeton passed from this world on July 8. In an extraordinary life of 95 years, John Templeton was one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, most successful investors, most generous philanthropists, and a tireless seeker for spiritual truth.
I first learned of John Templeton nearly 30 years ago when he appeared on the PBS show “Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser.” The late Mr. Rukeyser, for those of you who didn’t know him, had a dominating personality—colorful, witty, brilliant, cocky, and no sufferer of fools. His ego was sizable, and he liked being the center of attention. On the night I first saw John Templeton, though, Rukeyser was transformed. His persona that night was humble, deferential. He spoke quietly, almost reverently, in introducing Mr. Templeton, and then, during their interview, he treated his guest with the utmost respect, even awe. It was almost impossible to envision Louis Rukeyser playing second fiddle to anyone, but he humbly assumed this role in the company of John Templeton.
What explained Rukeyser’s deference that night? Did his guest have a personality even more dominating than Lou’s? On the contrary, Sir John—a slightly built man without an ounce of bravado—was very soft-spoken and mild-mannered. It was as if Rukeyser had introduced Superman, and then Clark Kent appeared. But underneath the modest surface, there was something about this quiet, unassuming man that held one’s attention. Suffusing John Templeton’s being were powerful spiritual qualities—intelligence, insight, optimism, and an inner strength anchored securely on an unshakable faith in the ultimate power of good.
In an investment world full of wannabe gurus and Barnum-like economic forecasters, John Templeton was the real thing. For decades, he demonstrated an amazing ability to discern economic value and long-term trends. A pioneer in global investing, he made many investors very wealthy. He was immune to investment fads. In fact, at the beginning of this decade, he profited handsomely from the bubble in tech stocks, selling overvalued stocks short and profiting from their inevitable fall to earth. Earlier this decade, already in his 90s, he warned that U.S. housing was a bubble—a painful realization that came to others too late.
Sir John Templeton was born in Tennessee. In 1968, he gave up his American citizenship to become a British citizen domiciled in the Bahamas, a tax haven. In 1987, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his philanthropic works.
For some, the renunciation of American citizenship would be an act of protest or something done in anger. Sir John—a man so clearly at peace with himself and his fellow man—did not operate at that level. While I can’t say with absolute certainty, from everything I have read about him or heard him say, I believe he took this step because of his supreme loyalty to the highest principles.
A devout Christian (a lifelong Presbyterian who routinely opened the board meetings of his mutual funds with prayer) John Templeton served God first. It must have seemed strange to him for the U.S. government to want to take a much larger share of his income than the tithe (tenth) that the Bible says is due to Almighty God. But Sir John was a man for whom faith and reason are compatible and interrelated, and I believe that human rationality was as significant a factor as his faith in his decision to change his citizenship.
As one who saw wealth creation as the essential precursor to removing the curse of poverty from the human race, he clearly understood the utter stupidity of the American government’s myriad wealth-destroying policies. It was only natural for him, then, to move to where he could help wealth-generating capital flourish. He did this not for himself—he could have afforded everything he wanted for himself here in the States, and indeed, as a billionaire who traveled in economy class, his personal consumption was modest; instead, he did it for his fellow man. The vast extent of Sir John’s charitable donations was made possible by his decision about his citizenship.
John Templeton believed that human beings can fulfill their potential only when they are free from oppressive government policies. He was convinced that free men, imbued with Christian values, could and would do more to vanquish poverty than heavy-handed government policies that infringed man’s God-given rights. That is why he supported various organizations that work to maximize individual liberty under law, in addition to charities, like Mother Teresa’s, that directly ministered to human needs.
Sir John’s mission in life was to serve God. He did so admirably, and now receives the heavenly benediction, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.