Habitat for Humanity founder dies
By Dorie Turner
ATLANTA — A millionaire by the time he was 30, Millard Fuller gave up his fortune and invested his life in Habitat for Humanity — a Christian charity that has built more than 300,000 houses and turned poor people into homeowners by using "sweat equity" and no-interest loans.
Fuller, who co-founded Habitat with his wife Linda, died Tuesday near his south Georgia home after suffering from chest pains, headache and difficulty swallowing, his wife said. He was 74.
The couple was planning to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in August with a 100-house worldwide "blitz build." Those plans will likely go forward without him.
"Millard would not want people to mourn his death," Linda Fuller said. "He would be more interested in having people put on a tool belt and build a house for people in need."
From its beginning in 1976, headquartered in a tiny gray frame house that doubled as Fuller’s law office, Habitat grew to a worldwide network that has provided shelter to more than 1.5 million people.
Habitat home buyers are required to work on their own houses, investing what the Fullers called "sweat equity."
Preaching the "theology of the hammer," Fuller built an army of volunteers that included former U.S. presidents, other world leaders and Hollywood celebrities.
One of Habitat’s highest-profile volunteers, former President Jimmy Carter, called Fuller "one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known.
"He used his remarkable gifts as an entrepreneur for the benefit of millions of needy people around the world by providing them with decent housing," Carter said in a statement. He called Fuller "an inspiration to me, other members of our family and an untold number of volunteers who worked side-by-side under his leadership."
The son of a widower farmer in the cotton-mill town of Lanett, Ala., Fuller earned his first profit at age 6, selling a pig. While studying law at the University of Alabama, he formed a direct-marketing company with his friend Morris Dees — who later founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. — selling cookbooks and candy to high school chapters of the Future Homemakers of America. That business made them millionaires.
When Fuller’s capitalist drive threatened to kill his marriage, the couple, who wed in college, sold everything to devote themselves to the Christian values they grew up with.
"I gave away about $1 million," Fuller said in a 2004 interview with the Associated Press. "I wasn’t a multimillionaire; I was a poor millionaire."
The couple’s search for a mission led them to Koinonia, an interracial farming collective outside the south Georgia town of Americus. There, with Koinonia founder Clarence Jordan, the Fullers developed the concept of building no-interest housing for the poor — an idea that eventually grew into Habitat for Humanity.
For the first 14 years, Fuller’s salary was just $15,000; his wife worked 10 years for free.
Fuller’s works won him numerous accolades, including a 1996 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.