A Searcher’s Life: In Memory of Dr. Jack Templeton


Dr. Jack Templeton began his autobiography, John M. Templeton Jr: Physician, Philanthropist, Seeker, with a compelling story. In the late 1960s, while still a fledgling physician, he found himself charged with caring for a young girl who had been shot. A colleague told him that the victim’s survival now depended upon him. “I was both awestruck and challenged,” he wrote. “This is what it was all about—to care for others, to offer life and hope wherever possible. It was the reason I chose to spend my professional life in and around hospitals.”

He learned that clinical medicine can make a tremendous difference, one patient at a time. But it is not the only way of increasing the life chances of individuals; health is determined by a society’s culture, too. “If one’s culture encourages an openness to learning and to applying lessons that contribute to health, then the behaviors and lifestyle one chooses for one’s self or family will be healthy choices as opposed to foolish ones,” he stressed. He embodied his belief that lifelong learning, which he considered  a crucial factor for success.

That belief runs alongside a deeply held curiosity, a yearning to explore. In his autobiography, Dr. Templeton recalled a childhood home in the residential area of Englewood, New Jersey. It became a veritable adventure playground, and included a dilapidated barn with an intriguing tower, where Jack and his friends would explore and play. Later on in 1957, when he needed knee surgery, Dr. Templeton asked the anesthetist if he could stay awake during the operation. “I even hoped that they would put up some mirrors so that I could watch the operation, but they flatly refused.”

It was this unification of learning and curiosity that eventually led Dr. Templeton, like his father, to philanthropy. “It was [Sir John’s] joy to spend fifty-five years helping his clients and shareholders become materially prosperous,” he wrote. “But his even greater joy was the opportunity to help people become spiritually prosperous through his different foundations and philanthropies. He created a philanthropic culture based on humility and an eagerness to learn.” After a successful career in which he was able to help many children and young people through surgical intervention, Dr. Templeton followed in Sir John’s footsteps to continue helping others through philanthropy. He became president of the John Templeton Foundation upon its establishment in 1987 and added the responsibility of chairman in 2006.

Dr. Templeton learned many things from Sir John as he took over the reins of the John Templeton Foundation, including a lesson in failure—a fact of life that at first astounded Jack, as Sir John had seemed to him to be a man of ever increasing accomplishment. He described one day in 1954, when Sir John sat him down and talked to him about his experience of business failure. There were crucial lessons to be learned from taking such risks. “[My father] told me that the single most common factor that caused a venture to fail was the choice of the wrong individual to lead the operation,” Dr. Templeton said. “It reinforced his feeling that it is usually individuals—not additional staff or boards—who provide the best leadership and organization.”

If there is one central virtue that underpinned Jack Templeton’s memories and considerations, however, it was a felt sense of gratitude. It lies at the heart of his writing. He notes how gratitude came relatively easily when he was young because of all the blessings that surrounded him. Then, later in life, he became grateful for things that he had previously taken for granted. “More specifically, I came to greater appreciation of the precious gift of freedom and how fragile it is,” he stressed.

“Life is fascinating, full of many mysteries, many of which are not unfathomable,” he wrote. That expansive view was the source of his ideal of never stopping learning, and additionally, passing onto others what has been learned. It is an ideal to which Dr. Templeton dedicated his life, and for which we are all grateful.