Originally created 07/31/05

A 'National' treasure



Imagine having one of America's richest men make a call on you - for no reason other than to thank you for what you do.

Shortly after becoming chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club in 1991, Jack Stephens made an unexpected request of a local friend: Could he be introduced to the mayor of Augusta, the chairman of the Richmond County Commission, Augusta's police chief and Richmond County's sheriff? The friend agreed, and Stephens visited each public official in their own respective offices.

Why? Merely to say "thank you" - to express his gratitude to these men, and to commend them for what they had contributed toward the success of the club's world-famous Masters Tournament.

Such a story - and there are many more like it - illustrates the true measure of the man named Jack Stephens.

His rural Arkansas childhood during the Depression has the earmarks of a Horatio Alger story; indeed, he won the Horatio Alger Award in 1980. But along his path to success - U.S. Naval Academy graduate, successful businessman, powerful financier - what defined Stephens was his compassion and good works.

Stephens once told a reporter, "There are only two pleasures associated with money: making it, and giving it away." He did both very well. In leading the Stephens Group Inc. financial group in Little Rock, Ark., he invested or assisted in many enterprises: Dillard's, Alltel, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods.

But as a philanthropist, his list of accomplishments seems endless. Programs to which he devoted his time and wealth have helped educate and assist underprivileged children; provided scholarships for children and cash incentives for teachers; stocked museums with the works of Degas, Monet and Picasso; and built a medical institute and collegiate athletic complexes.

It is fitting that Stephens became the fourth chairman of the prestigious Augusta National because of the role golf played in his life. "Golf," he said, "is a great teacher in life. The same skills needed to master the game are the same skills needed to master life - a life full of unseen obstacles and excitement."

Jackson T. "Jack" Stephens died Saturday at 81 - leaving his beloved Arkansas, his country and the Augusta National Golf Club better than he found them.