John M Templeton Jr

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 29 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3278
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Paediatric surgeon, philanthropist, and head of the John Templeton Foundation

In the latter part of 1957, John M Templeton Jr received some bad news—he would have to undergo surgery to repair his left knee. Templeton, the son of mutual funds pioneer, billionaire, and philanthropist John Templeton Sr, had received the injury playing American football, when he was crunched hard simultaneously by three opposing players.

Templeton’s doctor, Frank Stinchfield, head of orthopaedic surgery at Columbia University in New York City, explained to the 17 year old boy that to allow his knee to heal properly, the crushed ligament and cartilage would have to be removed. Rather than being worried that his knee would be sliced open, Templeton, known throughout his life by the nickname Jack, became fascinated with the idea of surgery.

“I wanted to participate in my own case,” Templeton wrote 50 years later in his autobiography, John M Templeton Jr: Physician, Philanthropist, Seeker.1 “I asked the anaesthetist to give me a spinal, which would allow me to be 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.”

Despite the lack of mirrors, the experience piqued Templeton’s interest in medicine. His interest grew even stronger during a summer internship in 1960 at a Presbyterian medical mission in Cameroon, after which he visited Albert Schweitzer’s hospital in Gabon. In 1968, Templeton graduated from Harvard Medical School and, not surprisingly, opted to become a surgeon.

At the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia he became recognised as a top surgeon and as an international expert in the evaluation and management of conjoined twins. He also served as director of the hospital’s trauma programme, and as professor of paediatric surgery at the University Pennsylvania.

“He was capable of doing the sort of difficult surgery many shy away from, and his results were superb,” says James A O’Neill Jr, who in 1981 was named surgeon in chief at the Children’s Hospital, and is now professor of paediatric surgery and chairman emeritus of surgical sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. O’Neill adds that Templeton “was a competent and compassionate physician, conscientious to a fault.”

“This is what it was all about,” Templeton says in his autobiography. “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.”

In 1995, however, the year he turned 55, Templeton retired from medicine to manage the John Templeton Foundation, founded in 1987 by his father. The foundation’s goal—in its own words—is to serve as “a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the big questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.” It supports research on “subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will.”

The foundation is seen by some as being conservative, and for blurring the line between science and religion. In 2011 Nature published an article on the foundation with the headline, “Religion: Faith in science—the Templeton Foundation claims to be a friend of science. So why does it make so many researchers uneasy?”2

During Templeton’s leadership—as president and also as chairman after the death of his father in 2008—its endowment grew from $28m to $3.34bn. In 2013 it awarded $103m in grants, mainly to major universities and scholars worldwide, ranking 55th in total giving among US foundations.

“Among the things for which I am most grateful,” Templeton wrote, “is the opportunity to dedicate my life to promoting the values espoused by the foundation that I am privileged to lead.”

John Marks Templeton Jr was born on 19 February 1940 in New York City, the eldest of three children. He was raised in Englewood, New Jersey, and spent summers in the small town of Winchester, Tennessee, the hometown of his father. When he was 11 years old, his mother, an advertising executive, died in a motorbike accident while on holiday.

Templeton studied at Yale, earning a degree in history in 1962. After graduating from Harvard Medical School he started a surgical internship and residency at Medical College of Virginia. While there he met Josephine Gargiulo, known as Pina, who was training as a paediatric anaesthesiologist. They married in 1970.

Templeton moved to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 1973, training in paediatric surgery under the renowned C Everett Koop.3 After serving two years as a doctor in the US Navy, Templeton returned to the Children’s Hospital in 1977. Here he would remain until he retired from medicine, with his wife often serving as his lead anaesthesiologist. In addition to his clinical work, Templeton also was author of dozens of research papers.

“He was very creative and had the capacity to know what aspects of a problem might lead to a solution,” says O’Neill. “All his research was patient oriented. He contributed significantly to oesophageal atresia in the premature, anorectal anomaly repair outcomes related to technique, and conjoined twin reconstruction.”

Templeton was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and served as vice chairman of the American Trauma Society, and president of its Pennsylvania division. He served on several boards including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Foreign Policy Research Institute, National Bible Association, and Templeton Growth Fund. In addition to his autobiography, he also wrote an inspirational book, Thrift and Generosity: The Joy Of Giving.4

O’Neill describes Templeton as having a “wonderful sense of humour” and being “very humble,” adding that on Christmas eve Templeton and his daughters would present gift baskets to poorer families in Philadelphia. He said that most of what Templeton did for people was done anonymously.

Templeton leaves his wife, who retired from the Children’s Hospital in 1999; and two daughters.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3278


  • John Marks Templeton Jr (b 1940; q Harvard Medical School 1968), died from cancer on 16 May 2015.


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