One day in the late 1980s, a security guard called to say there was a man in our lobby who had an envelope to give to me. I asked it be put in with the other inter-office mail which was delivered four or five times during the day but, no, the security guard said the envelope must be hand delivered. “This man claims if he fails to put the note in your hand, he’s been told not to come back where he works … “
We had a laugh at that, so I was just as curious who ordered “hand delivery” and what on earth was so important it take on the same magnitude as the Treaty of Versailles. To this day I can tell you that note’s every word:
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What’s gotten between you and me and the aquarium?
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I immediately called Jack Lupton to tell him unless they were going to play football or baseball in it, the aquarium was out of my realm. I said, “I hope it will be great for our city and …” before Jack cut in, and he was a master at it. “Ex, when can you be here? I’m talking today. Nothing is more important to me. You want me to send a car?”
“No sir … I’m on my way right now.” The ladies in the office thought it was funny when I wondered if they had any Coca-Colas around before Jack shut his office door and we spent the next three hours talking about “our” city, “our” dreams, “our” phonies, what’s the right way to get things done, and making the little guy feel every bit as valuable as the big guy.
Jack had a strong belief that if he could buy those who we call a ‘liberal elite” for face value, and then sell the same “fake” for what he or she ‘thinks’ they are worth, he could multiple his fortune 10 times over. It was the first of many quiet conversations we would share but the first time was the best. Mr. Lupton wasn’t shy about identifying the goofballs by name, and – when he needed to -- he could cuss as he did so, could he ever.
In the past few months I have thought about Jack a lot. He died in 2010 after totally revising and revitalizing our city. You would be hard-pressed to name one individual who has had a greater effect on as many thousands of people. But now there are others besides me who are stunned as we watch what is happening to our philanthropic heritage. Brother, let me be quite specific; I know better than most that not one of the greatest of the greats would ever stand for it.
The Lupton family with its Lyndhurst Foundation, the Benwood Foundation that Ben Thomas brilliantly left to nephew George Hunter, but it's more than that. The philanthropic thread runs so deep you can easily recognize it in the Siskins, the Guerrys, Frank Harrison, and the Maclellans, the Probascos… I’m telling you it’s a glitter list that runs long. Olan and C.G. Mills, Jack’s cousin Tommy, Dr. James Fowle…I am here to tell you I knew most of them and after spending time with Chattanooga’s icons, I can tell you that not one in our legendary “doers of deeds” would not stand in contempt of the far-left political agendas our foundation’s leaders today believe is a just calling.
Frankly, it is none of my business what charities benefit from foundation money but I have a real problem when I know that if one foundation allocates a half-million to the now-outed political group UnifiEd – where they use children to pound door-to-door, this means another charity group with a far-greater cause, must go without.
There is no political donation in the free world more important than one in the name of charity, and there is no lout that stinks worse than an “organizer” who takes charity donations and uses those dollars to support questionable politics. That is fraud and that is a crime.
Unless it is checked, and very quickly, Chattanooga’s reputation as a philanthropic oasis will first tarnish, and then end.