- (Photo: AP Images / Johnny Clark)
A memorial celebration was held over the weekend as a tribute to Millard Fuller, the millionaire entrepreneur who gave it all away to help establish the Christian house-building charity Habitat for Humanity.
Among those who paid tribute to Fuller, who died last month at the age of 74, was former President Jimmy Carter, one of Habitat’s most active high-profile volunteers.
“Our lives were transformed by our relationship with Millard Fuller," Carter said during Saturday’s service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, according to The Associated Press.
Beginning in 1976, Fuller forged Habitat for Humanity into a worldwide Christian housing ministry, building 200,000 homes with projects in 100 countries. Fuller spent decades traveling and speaking worldwide, and earned international recognition for his work advocating decent, affordable housing for all.
Shortly after Fuller’s death, Carter had issued a statement in which he 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 the statement. “As the founder of Habitat for Humanity and later the Fuller Center, he was an inspiration to me, other members of our family and an untold number of volunteers who worked side-by-side under his leadership.”
During Saturday’s memorial celebration, Carter was more playful with his words as the memorial service was “both a tribute and a joyous celebration,” according to The Fuller Center for Housing, the second organization that Fuller founded. Linda Fuller, Fuller’s wife of 49 years and the co-founder of both Habitat and The Fuller Center, said that her husband would not have wanted people to mourn his death.
In his speech, Carter recalled his first meeting with Fuller, who the former president had not heard of until he saw a newspaper in which the millionaire entrepreneur criticized him for being "inattentive to the needs of the poor."
Carter said he figured he would politely turn down the Fullers' request for his help in their cause because he was busy with other work.
At the sit-down, however, Fuller had a legal pad with a list of 32 things he wanted Carter to do.
"Eventually, we decided to do all of them," Carter said to the laughter of the crowd.
According to the AP, Carter said it was hard to turn down Fuller because of his devotion to building homes for the needy.
"Millard goes to bed with inspirations, we go to bed with nightmares about what we need to do to carry out his vision," Carter joked.
Fuller had served as president of Habitat for Humanity International for 29 years, leaving the organization in January 2005 over allegations that he had sexually harassed a female staff member in 2003.
Though there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the charge, Habitat’s international board moved to oust Fuller, leading him to establish the Fuller Center for Housing in April 2005.
Fuller died on Feb. 3, 2009, after falling ill with a severe headache and chest pains. His son said last month that a preliminary autopsy report indicated congestive heart failure.