DURHAM, N.C. –- J.B. Fuqua, the retired entrepreneur for whom Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business is named, died at an Atlanta hospital on Wednesday, April 5. He was 87.
“J.B. Fuqua was a wonderful person, extraordinarily gracious, generous, and humble.” said Fuqua School of Business Dean Doug Breeden. “We were the lucky ones to be in his life. He will be missed tremendously by all of us. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family.”
Fuqua began his relationship with Duke University when, as a teenage student, he borrowed books by mail from the Duke library. A voracious reader and a quick study, Fuqua pursued a higher education on his own.
“I began to order books on finance and banking and things I did not understand much about,” wrote Fuqua in his book “Fuqua: How I Made My Fortune Using Other People’s Money.” “I think if I had not had access to those books from Duke and other reading materials, I would certainly have been less successful early on in my business career.”
Though Fuqua never went to college, he set a premium value on education, said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. “J.B. Fuqua epitomized the great American success story and lived a magical life. He never forgot his roots and lived his life guided by ethical values and hard work,” Brodhead said. “He understood the value of education and generously supported it. J.B.’s influence at Duke extended well beyond the business school that bears his name, and we are all the beneficiaries of his wisdom and generosity of spirit.”
Fuqua was born John Brooks Elam, Jr., on June 26, 1918, and raised on a tobacco farm in Prince Edward County, Virginia. He changed his name to Fuqua, his mother’s maiden name, and dropped the “Jr.” when he was old enough to legally do so.
Among his many accomplishments, Fuqua is best known as the founder and chairman of Fuqua Industries, Inc., the Atlanta-based Fortune 500 company. What started as a small manufacturer of bricks grew to become a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate of business holdings. “I am proof that any obstacle can be overcome if you are willing to educate yourself and work hard,” Fuqua wrote in his book.
His cumulative giving to Duke was nearly $40 million, establishing him as one of Duke’s largest individual benefactors.
Fuqua was a Duke trustee emeritus and a charter member of the Board of Visitors of The Fuqua School of Business. In addition to an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Duke in 1973, Fuqua was awarded honorary degrees from nine other colleges and universities.
Tom Johnson, the former chairman and CEO of CNN, former publisher of the Los Angeles Times and executive assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson, met Fuqua in the 1960s and remained a close friend.
“There are many ways to measure a person’s life. In the case of J.B. Fuqua, his life’s value too often is measured by the number of companies he owned, the millions of dollars he earned and the complex business deals he successfully completed,” Johnson said. “As amazing as those accomplishments are, they do not adequately reflect the genuine magnitude of his life achievements. J.B. built a remarkably full life of public service, private philanthropy and genuine caring for family, friends, community, education, capitalism and much more. Untold thousands have been fortunate enough to be touched by his generosity and kindness. This is the way he should be remembered.”
Fuqua is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and his son, Rex. He was preceded in death by his other son, Alan.