Sir John Templeton
Sir John Templeton (1912-2008)
I believe it was 1991 when I had the first opportunity to spend some quality time with Sir John Templeton. I had the reasonable nervousness of meeting with a legend, as I sat across from him at his office in the Bahamas. It took him only a few seconds to notice that the sun, shining through the windows, was reflecting on my eyes. Sir John immediately stood on a chair, and adjusted the screen, practicing what he preached about being humble and caring for even the smallest things in life.
I also recall seeing him on my flight to the Mont Pèlerin Society meeting in Mexico. He did not see me for I was sitting several rows behind him. I remember that he was flying on economy class and handling his luggage and life like any other well-adjusted human being. My wife, who was with me, immediately reflected on how refreshing it was to see someone with the stature of John Templeton still practice the Christian virtue of detachment.
Sir John has helped changed the world in many ways. One way was through his ingenuity in the world of international investing. As a pioneer, who led by example, he taught us that one can find attractive investments all over the globe. Yet, he did not restrict his insights solely to the world of monetary investments. More important, he has also changed the world of philanthropy. Sir John has been the most innovative and creative non-profit investor that I ever met in the areas of health, poverty reduction, science & religion, and free-enterprise education. As you can imagine, I came to learn many important lessons through his books and lectures. However, it wasn’t until I actually saw him practice what he wrote that his writings came alive. The best lesson I ever learned from him was in the way he reacted to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
Sir John was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for our 20th anniversary reception at a hotel across the Pentagon on September 18th. I remember losing some sleep during the night of September 11th (I never have trouble sleeping, so that was a weird feeling). Yet, during those nights of September, the thunder of the F-15 jets providing air cover over Washington made me wonder about the possibility of going ahead with our anniversary reception. Who would be willing, or able, to travel under those circumstances?
This was not my first encounter with the scourge of terrorism. My generation in Argentina had to fight against such violent groups, and this convinced me about the importance to bounce back immediately after each attack by the enemy. At Atlas, a few of our friends felt very strongly that we should cancel the event. That prompted me to call Sir John. He was very determined to continue as planned, and with his usual optimistic attitude, he told me “in a short time we will forget about the attacks, just as we did about the Oklahoma bombing.” I did not argue with him about these remarks, but my view then was that both terrorist attacks would change the political landscape of the United States for decades to come.
Sir John commented that despite his strong feelings, if those of us who favored going ahead with the show were “outvoted,” he would do his best to reschedule. We decided to proceed with the event and I recall how resourceful Sir John was in getting a flight to our area. The two airports closer to Washington were closed, so he bought several tickets to nearby airports. Yet we still arranged for a car to drive him from Ohio, just in case. Sir John had already prepared similar back-up plans. He finally arrived earlier than expected (the night of the 17th to Baltimore; someone told me that he took the bus). He did not want us to pick him up or take him back to the airport. He was then approaching his 89th birthday.
During the event I had the opportunity to spend a good amount of time with Sir John. So as we rode back to the hotel I asked him “what is it that gives you the most joy in life?” Very quickly, and candidly, he answered that his biggest source of joy was his philanthropic work. When I asked him to be more specific, he gave the example of his support to increase awareness about how prayer, and a spiritual life, can affect healing and health. Prior to this philanthropic enterprise, there was almost no one teaching this topic. Now, such courses are offered in a majority of medical schools throughout the country.
As we continued our ride to the hotel, I also asked him “what is your biggest source of sadness?” He took slightly longer to answer and then responded, “the many people who waste their talents.” He followed up by telling me that few people know about the purpose of their life and then explained another one of his philanthropic efforts, the importance of character education. So then I asked, “given that the first years of life are essential for character formation, isn’t the role of parents essential? Shouldn’t we start there?” He concurred.
I also asked him if he truly believed that increasing the competition and number of theological and scientific studies would be able to increase our knowledge of God. As he looked outside the car, quickly glancing across the span of buildings, parks and human beings that surrounded us, he convinced me that he did. He would then verbally answer that contemplating nature and truth brings us close to God.
Passing in front of the damaged Pentagon building, I asked him one last question: “Do you feel that God is living “in you?” He answered, “I live in Him. God would be too little if He would live in me.”
One month later, during a typical good night sleep, Sir John appeared to me in a dream. I was having dinner with him in a typical family setting. He was in his sixties, looking super sharp as always, and his message was the same - optimism.
After waking up I remembered one of his favorite maxims, “Our lives are very much like our dreams.” I look back at my life and I see that since I was 17, my biggest dream has been to help bring freedom to the world. And, through Atlas, I continue to work towards this dream.
I have had the privilege of living a life, devoted to faith and freedom. In the year 2000, I had the privilege of being invited to become an honorary member of the Templeton Foundation, giving me the opportunity to spend more time with Sir John and his extended family.
I know that Sir John left a wonderful legacy. I also know that the best way to remember him is to help many other people live up to their potential and fulfill their dreams. In this, he has our commitment.
Infected by his optimism, perhaps I should end with a note of Christian hope and confidence that, one day, I will share his joys for eternity,