John Templeton, 95; Billionaire Invested in Science, Religion

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

John Templeton, 95, a billionaire investor whose lifelong fascination with science, the spiritual realm and their mutual connection to the meaning of life prompted him to establish the Templeton Prize to honor what he called progress in religion, died July 8 of pneumonia at Doctors Hospital in Nassau, Bahamas.

A naturalized British citizen, he was born in small-town Tennessee and lived in Nassau.

Mr. Templeton started his Wall Street career in 1937 and from the beginning took an unconventional approach to investing. He scoured the world for bargains, picked against common wisdom and was an early postwar investor in then-obscure Japanese companies such as Hitachi and Fuji.

In 1954, he founded the Templeton Growth Fund, one of the largest and most successful international investment funds in the world. Described by Money magazine in 1999 as "arguably the greatest global stock picker of the century," he sold his combined Templeton funds to the Franklin Group in 1992 for $440 million. At the time of the sale, Templeton funds had assets of $22 billion.

In Mr. Templeton's view, faith and finances -- spirituality and business success -- were intertwined. He always began annual meetings of his mutual fund with a prayer and often noted that an unethical business would inevitably fail, "perhaps not right away, but eventually."

The author or editor of 10 books about spirituality, he established the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1972 as a way of recognizing exemplary achievement in work related to life's spiritual dimension.

He always made sure its monetary award exceeded that of the Nobel Prize, underscoring his contention that advances in the spiritual domain are no less important than those in other areas of human endeavor. The Templeton award is currently worth about $1.6 million.

The annual prize -- the name was changed in 2001 to the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities -- grew out of his belief that an honor equivalent to a Nobel Prize should be given to living innovators in spiritual action and thought.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was the first Templeton Prize laureate in 1973. Other winners include the Rev. Billy Graham, exiled Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, physicist Freeman Dyson, philosopher Charles Taylor and Watergate felon turned prison preacher Charles Colson.

Recipients have included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. "I grew up as a Presbyterian," Mr. Templeton told Business Week in 2005. "Presbyterians thought the Methodists were wrong. Catholics thought all Protestants were wrong. The Jews thought the Christians were wrong.

"So, what I'm financing is humility. I want people to realize that you shouldn't think you know it all."

Mr. Templeton, who retained his soft Southern accent and lived in a relatively modest fashion in a white-columned home overlooking the ocean, contributed a sizable portion of his fortune to the John Templeton Foundation, established in 1987.

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