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Philanthropist, Investor John Templeton Dies

Reuters
Tuesday, 8 Jul 2008 | 5:41 PM ET

John Templeton, a pioneering mutual fund manager, global investor and billionaire philanthropist, died of pneumonia in a hospital in the Bahamas on Tuesday, a spokeswoman at his foundation said. He was 95.

Templeton, who started his career on Wall Street in 1937, created several successful international funds before selling Templeton Funds in 1992 to Franklin Resources for $440 million in what was then the largest acquisition of an independent mutual fund company.

He remained deeply involved in his business until he was nearly 80, when he shifted focus to philanthropy. "People keep noticing that I'm 79 years old, and ask me what would happen if I would die," he told Reuters in an interview in 1992 while negotiating the sale of his firm.

"I have to take that into account," he said.

He died at 12:20 a.m. after being admitted about a week ago to Doctors Hospital in Nassau, said John Templeton Foundation spokeswoman Pamela Thompson.

In 1954 Templeton set up the Templeton Growth Fund at a time when few Americans considered investing offshore. The fund has returned 13.3 percent on average annually. A $10,000 investment made when the fund began is worth about $8 million today, according to Franklin Resources.

Templeton's knack for investing was evident as early as 1939, when at the start of World War II he borrowed money to buy 100 shares each in 104 companies that sold for $1 per share or less, including 34 companies that were in bankruptcy.

According to the foundation's website, only four of those 100 turned out to be worthless, and Templeton made large profits on the others after holding each for an average of four years. In 1999, Money magazine called him "arguably the greatest global stock picker of the century."

A devout Presbyterian, Templeton was known for starting his mutual fund's annual meetings with a prayer. Some of those religious beliefs were reflected in the more than dozen books he wrote or edited.

Templeton contributed a sizable portion of his fortune to his foundation, which now has a $1.5 billion endowment. In 1972 he set up the 1 million-pounds-sterling Templeton Prize, the world's largest annual award given to an individual, for work related to spirituality. Mother Teresa was the first recipient of the award, in 1973.

Set up in 1987, his Pennsylvania-based foundation offers about $70 million in annual grants to support scientific research at universities in fields such as theoretical physics, cosmology, social sciences and religious beliefs.

"Insights can come quickly and easily when we commit ourselves to the action of the spirit, when we have committed ourselves to the awakening of our soul faculties," Templeton wrote in his book "Wisdom from World Religions: Pathways Toward Heaven on Earth".

Born in 1912 in Tennessee, he renounced his U.S. citizenship in the 1960s and moved to the Bahamas, becoming a naturalized British citizen and living free of income taxes in the former British colony.

He was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth in 1987 for his philanthropic accomplishments. He is survived by two sons, Christopher and Jack.

"We owe him a deep debt of gratitude," Franklin Resources President and Chief Executive Greg Johnson said in a statement after his passing.