Originally created 04/07/06

Life shaped by leading, giving

Atlanta tycoon J.B. Fuqua, whose multibillion-dollar business empire began in Augusta, died of complications from bronchitis Wednesday at age 87.

Though best known as the former head of Atlanta-based conglomerate Fuqua Industries, the son of a Virginia tobacco farmer got his start in business in 1939 by moving to Augusta to start the market's second radio station, WGAC.

In 1953, he opened Augusta's first TV station, WJBF, a venture that earned him his first million dollars and allowed him to string together a series of acquisitions that ranged from Royal Crown Bottling Co. to the now-defunct Claussen's Bakery of Augusta.

Mr. Fuqua is remembered by friends as a hard-driving but straight-shooting businessman.

"His philosophy was don't do anything illegal, immoral or dishonest, and good things will happen, which they did," said John Radeck, a former WJBF general manager who worked at the station from 1954 to 1979.

As an influential Democrat - Mr. Fuqua represented Augusta in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1957 to 1960 and in the Georgia Senate from 1960 to 1964 - he wielded as much political power as he did financial.

Along with former Gov. Carl Sanders, of Augusta, a close confidant, Mr. Fuqua asked President Kennedy intervene when he learned of the Army's plans to move Fort Gordon to New Jersey's Fort Monmouth.

He wrote about the event in his 2001 memoirs, Fuqua: How I Made My Fortune Using Other People's Money.

"After Carl and I made our case, we witnessed something that proved we were truly in the office of the most powerful man in the country, if not the world. Kennedy picked up the telephone and asked the operator to get him somebody in the Pentagon. He then told this person that if they were planning to shut down or move Fort Gordon, the decision must be reversed."

"Carl and I were two happy individuals when we got in my airplane and flew back to Augusta."

Mr. Fuqua sold WJBF and moved from Augusta to Atlanta in 1967 to run his growing stable of companies, which grew into Fuqua Industries.

Those who worked with him describe him as a taskmaster.

"He didn't say too much, but we he did, you had better listen," said Butch Campbell, former WJBF general manager.

Mr. Fuqua's last public appearance in Augusta was in 2002, when he received the Distinguished Georgian Award during a presentation at Augusta Country Club.

"I have paid back in as many ways as I can the good fortune that has come to me," he said at the event.

Indeed, Mr. Fuqua's philanthropy has become legendary. In his memoirs, he said he has given away $100 million in his lifetime.

He was once on the Forbes 400 richest people list, but Terry Sams, a former WJBF general manager who had known Mr. Fuqua since 1961, said he believes money became less important to the tycoon as years went on.

"I think he enjoyed the challenge more than anything else," he said.

Among his charitable contributions in Augusta is the Alan Fuqua Center, named after his son, who died in a plane crash at age 18. Mr. Fuqua donated the Walton Way property to Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church. The church uses the property as a general purpose facility.

His charitable contributions also created the Fuqua Heart Center at Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital and The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, where he checked out business books through the mail as a child.

"I think that if I had not has access to those books from Duke and other reading materials, I would certainly have been less successful early on in my business career," he wrote in his memoirs.

Mr. Fuqua was known as a champion of civil rights, pressuring the Augusta City Council to create a city-funded recreation department for blacks, as it did for whites. He also pushed WJBF management to hire the city's first black newsman, Frank Thomas.

WJBF's Parade of Quartets, a live variety program that featured mostly black performers, was Mr. Fuqua's brainchild. The show, which was first broadcast in 1954, was for years the only chance for blacks to get on TV.

"J.B. was way out in front in recognizing and realizing the invalidity of the segregated society," Mr. Sanders said Thursday. "And he was doing things other people were not doing to try and make sure that everyone regardless of their race, color or creed, had an equal opportunity, especially to an education."

Mr. Fuqua is survived by his wife, Dorothy Chapman Fuqua, whom he met in Augusta in 1944; his son, J. Rex Fuqua, of Atlanta; and two grandchildren.

Staff Writers Walter Jones and Greg Gelpi contributed to this story.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.


Born: June 26, 1918, in Prince Edward County, Virginia

Family: Wife, Dorothy; son J. Rex Fuqua; two grand- children; son Alan, deceased

Profile: After working as a radio engineer, he decided at age 21 to open his own radio station in Augusta. He later created the market's first TV station and used the profits to leverage investments in other businesses, which eventually grew into Fuqua Industries.

Companies he controlled*: Polaris Corp., Pier 1 Import Stores, Simplicity Pattern Co., U.S. Guaranty Life Insurance Co., Interstate Motor freight Systems Inc.

Charitable contributions: More than $100 million

* Partial list of companies other than Fuqua Industries

Source: Fuqua: How I Made My Fortune Using Other People's Money


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