Building a Legacy for Freedom: Remembering Jack Templeton

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at

Dr. John (Jack) Marks Templeton, Jr. (February 19, 1940-May 16, 2015), lived an extraordinarily productive life. He made many contributions as a medical doctor, a foundation president, and as a family man. I witnessed many of his accomplishments, but it was in his role as a leader to promote free enterprise in America and around the world that I learned the most. During his tenure as president, the John Templeton Foundation became the largest supporter of innovative efforts to promote free enterprise around the globe.

His vision of freedom was inspired by that of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Jack was convinced that having a good understanding of human nature is an essential aspect of all social sciences and the best guide for public policy. In promoting free enterprise and the principles of the free society, he quoted the Founding Fathers more than the great classical liberal economists. He found that, except for Adam Smith, especially in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, the vision of the human being promoted by free market economists tends to be very limited and narrow. The drama, the conflict, the potential for evil as well as for good, the role of passion, as well as the relevance of virtues and vices, tends to get lost in simplistic arguments and in a "know it all" attitude.

He noted that during the periods when free enterprise developed and became respected as the road to prosperity, the focus of writers, such as the Founding Fathers, was on human freedom rather than on capital. Is the current decline of economic freedom and the rule of law in the United States rooted in a misunderstanding of human nature? This and other "big questions" fascinated Jack. The motto of the foundation he led is "How little we know, how eager to learn." It was natural for him to have an eagerness to ask big questions as a path to new knowledge. Those who were not aware of this were usually intimidated or surprised by his queries. Dr. Edwin J. Feulner, former president of the Heritage Foundation, recently remarked that, in meeting with him, "when some of us thought we had a chance to speak about our projects he would change topics and ask us: Are humans inherently good?"

Knowing that I was born and lived half of my life in Argentina, he once asked me if I thought that the United States was on a path to "Argentinization." He believed it was. He had studied how some countries had jettisoned their future and was determined to do all in his power that it would not happen in the United States.

He was extremely concerned by the intervention of the state and its bureaucrats in all spheres of life, not only economics. Preserving the independence of the philanthropic sector was a primary concern. Religious liberty was another. Under his leadership, the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) became one of the main donors helping confront the challenges in this field.

Whenever he had doubts about whether JTF’s charter allowed for supporting efforts he deemed important, he used his own money. He was convinced, for example, that freedom is not free, that a free and prosperous society needs to be protected from its enemies. So he had an appreciation for the role of the military, and especially for those who are the first to risk their lives: the Special Forces. He even dedicated a book to them. He supported some of this work on national security as vice chairman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. In addition, he contributed from his own savings to many more causes—and mostly in an anonymous manner.

Templeton also saw the family as being an indispensable foundation of the free society. Although the role and relevance of family structure for character development fits neatly in JTF’s mission, whenever the topic reached politics, like the effort to have government redefine marriage, he was careful to use his personal money, not JTF’s.

"By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20), is a good guide in human affairs. In many foundations, after the death of the founder, the second and especially third generations start to drift away from donor intent. Not so with Templeton. The organization’s unique statutes, and the personal commitment of Jack to preserve the founder’s vision, has led to many third-generation members contributing to the cause of freedom. The most prominent are his daughters, Jennifer and Heather. His wife Pina (for Josephine), also deserves the credit; "their whole life has been working together as a team," Jennifer Templeton Simpson remarked.

Jennifer recently reflected that the main lesson she received from her father’s studies of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and other Founding Fathers, was the role of honest character. "Of all the things that my father taught me in life I know that character was the most important." Jennifer heads the members committee of the foundation. In the elaborate structure of the foundation, its founder Sir John Templeton regarded the members as one of the most important parts of the organization.

Jack’s responsibility in the promotion of free enterprise now passes to Heather Templeton Dill. She is now president of JTF. Heather is a mother of four, and Jennifer of two. Grand-nephews and nieces also share the vision and have roles in the foundation, so a faithful fourth generation is in the making. Heather will be the steward of a unique vision developed by her grandfather and nurtured by her father Jack, grounded in a humble spirit to improve human understanding, flourishing, and freedom.

Note: Alejandro A. Chafuen is an honorary active member of the John Templeton Foundation and a trustee of Grove City College.

–Dr. Alejandro A. (Alex) Chafuen ’84 is president of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and a member of the board of advisors for The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. (The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Grove City College, Atlas Economic Research Foundation, or their boards of trustees.)

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