20 May 2015

In Memoriam: Dr. Jack Templeton

Among the virtues buzzed about in foundation leadership today, “filial piety” might not rank up there with “radical visioneering” or “synergistic interdisciplinality.” But it was a value that was vitally important to Dr. Jack Templeton, who died last weekend at his home in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He lived by this principle, and deserves to be honored for it.

Jack Templeton grew up outside New York City, the eldest child of Sir John Templeton, the legendary investor and mutual fund innovator.  Jack’s innate intelligence and relentless curiosity primed him for academic success; after attending a Quaker high school, he went to Yale, and then on to Harvard for medical school. While studying to be a pediatric surgeon he met the woman who he said “changed the course of my life,” Dr. Pina Gargiulo, who would become his wife and frequent collaborator.

After studying under C. Everett Koop at the prestigious Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Templeton chose to devote two years to the Navy as a pediatric surgeon. He returned to CHOP and settled outside Philadelphia, where he and his wife built successful medical careers and enjoyed a rich domestic life with their two daughters.

By the 1990s, he was thriving professionally, as director of the trauma program at CHOP and a professor at the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania. But he found himself giving more and more of his time to help his father with the increasingly complex work of his philanthropy. Eventually he gave in to his father’s requests, formally resigned from his medical practice, and after getting his patients situated with other doctors, assumed full-time management of the John Templeton Foundation.

Sir John’s legendary investment success would eventually endow three major charitable foundations with a net asset value of more than $7 billion. For all his success, Sir John had an equally challenging problem. How to ensure that his distinctive, often contrarian vision would be honored not just a decade after his death, but a century? Sir John wanted to employ the methods and findings of the empirical sciences to inform and enrich the human spirit. He saw in the sciences a way to reinvigorate religion, advance theology, and inspire people to live more virtuous and happier lives.

The Templetons were well aware of the danger of philanthropic drift, and worked together energetically and creatively to encode Sir John’s ideas into the DNA of the foundation, through its bylaws, practices, grantmaking guidelines, and even its investment policies.

Arguably the most important moment in the history of any charitable foundation is the transition in control from one generation to the next. Sadly, the history of American philanthropy provides many cases that tend more to the cautionary than the exemplary. Colin Hanna, a friend of Dr. Templeton’s who worked closely with him on his giving, described him as “absolutely conscientious” about honoring donor intent. Dr. Templeton saw donor intent not as a restraint, but as “a positive virtue.” Understood properly, fidelity to donor intent wasn’t a straitjacket—it was a source of strength and inspiration.

Even with the son’s eagerness to honor the father’s philanthropic approach, and notwithstanding all the mechanisms the Templeton Foundation had put in place, it would take leadership to build and focus the growing entity. That leadership was supplied by Jack.

He had the curiosity of a scientist, and the can-do confidence of a surgeon. That’s a combination that can lead to arrogance—though not in this case. As one longtime grantee observed, “If you hadn’t known beforehand, you likely would not think that Jack held the position and resources he did. He was modest in dress and taste and consumption—although he likely would have said this was thrift, one of his favorite virtues—and modest in his demeanor and treatment of others. I recall my first official meeting with him, in his home, about which I was somewhat nervous. But he was so unassuming, so little concerned for himself, that I was soon at ease. He asked many questions, and seemed as interested in me as he was in my proposal.”

Dr. Templeton recognized the importance of humility, writing in his frank and highly readable 2008 memoir that “the foundation has been guided strongly by the value of humility. If you approach a subject where there is limited knowledge with a spirit of humility and open-mindedness, you’re much more likely to see ideas that others put forward but you have not thought of.”

Dr. Templeton talked about a formative incident that took place during his internship at the Medical College of Virginia. A mother brought in her three-year-old son, saying that she thought he had taken some of her iron supplement pills—at the most four or five. Dr. Templeton followed the appropriate protocol, gave the child a standard dose of Ipecac, and after the child had vomited up evidence of a few pills, sent him home with his mother after instructing her to give the child plenty of liquids and to lock up her iron tablets. The next morning she returned to the ER with the boy. He was dead. It turns out that he had taken many more pills than the mother had reported. Understandably shaken, Dr. Templeton “resolved in future situations not to take things at face value, but instead to ask careful questions and seek advice and counsel from top experts. This approach has served me well. In any uncertain situation I have endeavored to seek a second opinion…. One can never have too much data.”

Dr. Templeton shared with his father a passion for “relentless questioning,” focusing on the “big questions.” He believed that a healthy democracy required an educated voting populace, informed and capable of reasoned discourse, and that these faculties were essential not just to the republic but to a well-lived life. Any fellow person, from a cab driver to a member of the Royal Society, could be a source of knowledge or insight. Hence the pen and note paper he always carried.

Outside the foundation, Jack Templeton was generous and thoughtful with his personal philanthropy, supporting the disability services agency Melmark, the Boy Scouts whose Health and Safety Committee he chaired for more than 35 years, the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University, and many other charities.

R. J. Snell, director of the Philosophy Program at Eastern, remembers, “Of course Jack is well known for his generosity. Magnificence might be a better word given the scale of the giving. But this was a pattern throughout his life. I was at a Phillies game with him once (of course his tickets, third base side), during which he disappeared for several innings, returning with all sorts of food for the two students with us as well as, endearingly, stuffed animals for me to take home to my children (whom he had never met). He sent gifts upon the birth of my child. He sent gifts to take to students. Students were always given books.”

Templeton’s political giving sprang from the same sources of patriotic and Christian concern, always in the context of problem-solving and never with a whiff of self-interest. Snell observes that “while he had grave concerns about politics and the future of the republic, he was fundamentally hopeful. He thought the world was ordered by a wise and generous God. He believed, as did Sir John, in spiritual progress. He thought love was an unlimited resource which drove the sun, moon, stars, and human affairs. If anything, I was the old skeptic in the room, he was youthfully optimistic about the capacity to leave ‘lasting impacts’ and ‘generativity.’ For him, love is at the center of the universe. Love could be grasped or harnessed, and so hope was constant.”

“The key to understanding Jack is this,” said one Templeton Foundation executive. “He was a doctor. His mother died in a horrible traffic accident when he was 11, and he spent the rest of his life trying to heal those whom the world had broken. He saw children whose bodies were mangled by disease or trauma, and he would stand in the operating room, throwing everything he had at fixing them. He also saw how foundations could be eaten away from the inside, and he dedicated the last 26 years of his life to ensuring it didn’t happen to his father’s legacy. He saw a nation that was sick at heart. So he did everything in his power to heal it.”

Contributing editor Tom Riley is vice president for strategic planning at the Connelly Foundation.