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If you like Millard Fuller's story, you might also like:
Norman Borlaug,
Jimmy Carter,
Paul Farmer,
John Hume,
Wendy Kopp,
Greg Mortenson,
Ralph Nader and
Robert Schuller

Related Links:
Habitat for Humanity
Fuller Center for Housing
Koinonia Farm

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Millard Fuller
Millard Fuller
Profile of Millard Fuller Biography of Millard Fuller Interview with Millard Fuller Millard Fuller Photo Gallery

Millard Fuller Biography

Founder, Habitat for Humanity International

Millard Fuller Date of birth: January 3, 1935
Date of death: February 3, 2009

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  Millard Fuller

Millard Fuller Biography Photo
Millard Fuller was born in Lannet, a small town in Eastern Alabama. He was only three when his mother died. His father, a small-town grocer, later bought a farm where he raised cattle. Millard grew up stocking grocery store shelves and running the farm with his father. Millard Fuller developed a taste for business and majored in economics at Auburn University. He also became interested in politics, and at age 21 was the youngest delegate to attend the 1956 Deomcoratic National Convention in Chicago.

He was in his first week of law school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, when he met a fellow student, Morris Dees. The two of them struck up a friendship and a business partnership. While attending law school, they ran a number of enterprises, delivering birthday cakes, selling Christmas trees and housewares, and reinvested the money in local real estate, including student housing. By the time they finished law school, they were making more money from their business than the community's attorneys were making from the practice of law. In his last year of law school, Millard married Linda Caldwell of Tuscaloosa. The Fullers and Morris Dees moved to Montgomery, where the Fullers started a family, while Millard and Morris threw themselves heading into the pursuit of success. Relentlessly driven, the young men made a fortune in marketing and real estate.

At 29, Millard Fuller was a millionaire. He bought his wife a grand house, a vacation home, cars, boats, jewels, clothes and travel, but he was devoting every waking hour to his business. His wife and four children saw less and less of him. Finally, Linda Fuller's unhappiness became unbearable. She left Millard and fled to New York City. Devastated by the possible breakup of his marriage, Millard resolved to find a new way of life for himself and his family. Although the Fullers had both been raised as Christians, religion had not played a great role in their adult lives. Turning to their faith for inspiration, they decided to give up the pursuit of material success and try to find spiritual fulfillment.

Millard Fuller Biography Photo
Millard Fuller dissolved his partnership with Morris Dees, sold his share of the business, along with most of their other possessions, and gave their money to the poor. In 1965, the Fullers settled on Koinonia Farm, in Americus, Georgia, a Christian community founded by the minister and biblical scholar Clarence Jordan. At Koinonia, Jordan and his fellows looked for practical ways to apply Christ's teachings. A multiracial community, they lived in absolute equality, working together and sharing the fruit of their labor. In the Georgia of the 1960s, Koinonia was a target of suspicion and harassment by the segregationist establishment, but here the Fullers found a purposeful life, in accord with their Christian beliefs.

At Koinonia, Fuller sought ways to apply his business expertise to the building of a Christian community and to relieving the dire poverty of Koinonia's neighbors, many of whom lived in rickety shacks that offered little protection from the elements. In 1968 they founded the Fund for Humanity. The Fullers drew up a plan for a Christian housing ministry, "partnership housing," which would enable the poor to build homes of their own.

Millard Fuller Biography Photo
Following a Biblical injunction against charging interest to the poor (Exodus 22:25), the homes would be built with interest-free loans. They would use donated money and materials, together with volunteer labor. Homeowner families would invest their own labor into the building of their own homes and then into houses of other families. Loan payments would go into a revolving fund to finance the building of more houses. The first "partnership house" was completed in Sumner, Georgia in 1969, just a few months after Clarence Jordan died. The Fullers stayed on at Koinonia for four years, rebuilding the community and refining the idea of partnership housing, until they were ready to implement it on a larger scale.

In 1973, Millard and Linda Fuller, with their four children, moved to the African country of Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to put their model to the test. Partnership housing was a success in Zaire, and the Fullers were ready to bring it back to the United States. In 1976, they founded Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) as an ecumenical Christian organization dedicated to eliminating homelessness and substandard housing wherever they exist. Fuller established a small law practice in Americus, Georgia, and ran the organization from his office.

Millard Fuller Biography Photo
At first, Habitat concentrated on building homes around Americus. By 1978, it began its first operations outside Georgia, in San Antonio, Texas. The following year, Habitat acquired offices of its own and established its first international partnership in Guatemala. In 1984, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn joined HFHI as partners and initiated a Habitat project in New York City. Carter's prestige drew international publicity to Habitat; for a time, many people mistakenly believed that Carter had founded the organization.

In 1986, Habitat expanded to Canada. Millard and Linda Fuller celebrated HFHI's tenth anniversary by leading a 1,000-mile walk from Americus, Georgia to Kansas City, Missouri. In the following years, Habitat added youth programs, beginning at Baylor University in Texas. High school programs followed, and the organization expanded to Australia. Habitat homes have proved to be durable as well as affordable. When Hurricane Hugo struck South Carolina in 1989, many homes were destroyed, but all of those built by Habitat survived the storm.

By 1992, more than half of all Habitat houses were being built outside the United States, many in developing nations. That same year, the first Native American affiliate was founded to address the need for decent housing on America's Indian reservations. Thousands of students participated in Habitat's Collegiate Challenge, using their school breaks to build houses with Habitat affiliates around the world. President-elect Bill Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore participated in a Habitat building project between their election and their inaugural.

President Clinton awarded Millard Fuller the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. In bestowing the nation's highest civilian honor, he noted that "Habitat has revolutionized the lives of thousands... Millard Fuller has done as much to make the dream of home ownership a reality in our country and throughout the world as any living person." By this time, Habitat had expanded to Hungary and Romania, to Mexico and India.

Millard Fuller Biography Photo
Beginning in the late 1990s, Millard Fuller was dogged by allegations of inappropriate behavior with a female employee. In his 1998 interview with the Academy of Achievement, and in other forums, Fuller attributed these charges to a misunderstanding of his habitually demonstrative, affectionate nature. An investigation by Habitat's board of directors found insufficient proof of inappropriate conduct, but disagreements over the future direction of HFHI caused a division within the organization's leadership. In 2005, Millard and Linda Fuller were dismissed from their offices in the organization they had founded, and had led for nearly 30 years.

Immediately after leaving HFHI, they founded the Fuller Center for Housing, building further on the partnership housing model they had created. Millard Fuller continued this work for the rest of his life, traveling and speaking at Habitat for Humanity afilliates and Fuller Center Covenant Partnerships. He wrote nine books detailing his life and work, including Love in the Mortar Joints, The Technology of the Hammer and the three-volume self-help series Building Materials for Life. He died in 2009, at the age of 74.

Since Millard's death, Linda Fuller has continued their work. She also led the planning of the Nazareth Village Project, a re-creation of a first-century village in Nazareth, Israel. The village, museum and study center are aimed at helping people understand the teachings of Christ in the context of the time and place He lived. Linda Fuller remains an inspiration to all who participate in the fight against poverty in housing. As she has said, "To families in seemingly impossible situations, Habitat for Humanity becomes a friend and partner. And, by their own labor and with God's grace, they become owners of a decent home."

This page last revised on Oct 29, 2009 12:15 EDT
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