Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller, 74, died early Tuesday morning en route to an Albany, Ga., hospital.
"This morning about 3 a.m. he died on his way to Albany," said Holly Chapman, vice president for communications for the Fuller Center for Housing. "He had been sick for a couple of weeks."
There will be a visitation Tuesday night at First Presbyterian Church in Americus from 6-8 p.m., according to The Fuller Center Web site. The family will be there to receive guests. Fuller will be buried at Koinonia Farms Wednesday at 11 a.m. Koinonia is located on Ga. 49 south in Americus, Ga. The funeral is open to the public.
Habitat for Humanity was founded in Americus, Ga., in 1975 and built more than 200,000 homes poor people throughout the world during his tenure. Fuller left the organization in 2005 and founded the Fuller Center.
Fuller, born in Lanett, Ala., and a graduate of Auburn University and the University of Alabama law school, brought a unique approach to his humanitarian efforts.
“I see life as both a gift and a responsibility," he said. "My responsibility is to use what God has given me to help his people in need.”
Columbus attorney Ken Henson has known Fuller for nearly three decades. Henson was Fuller's "attorney and friend" during the time when Fuller and Habitat for Humanity parted ways.
"He was an amazing human being," Henson said. "There is none like him."
Fuller became a millionaire in the 1960s at 29 with a cookbook publishing house in Montgomery, Ala. He gave away his wealth and turned to a simple life.
At the time, Fuller re-evaluated his values and direction, according to the Habitat for Humanity Web site. His soul-searching led to reconciliation with his wife and to a renewal of his Christian commitment. That led him to Koinonia Farm, a Christian community in Sumter County.
Under Koinonia founder Clarence Jordan, Fuller began to form a housing ministry. It was the seed of Habitat for Humanity. He took the idea to Zaire in 1973.
"He took it to Africa because he figured if it could work there, it would probably work here," Henson said.
A few years later he brought it back to Americus where he housed the Habitat for Humanity International headquarters in his Church Street law office. That is when Henson met him.
"I still remember the first time I went to Americus to work on a case with him," Henson said. "I still can see that international headquarters sign. We were walking to lunch that day and he was the type to lead by example. He was picking up trash around the neighborhood. He wanted the area around Habitat for Humanity's International headquarters to look nice."
He then tried to make the world a better place. But it was not easy in those early years.
Columbus attorney Frank Myers grew up in Americus and his father was a Sumter county lawyer and friend of Fuller's.
"I remember when Habitat for Humanity was nothing," Myers said. "It was three shotgun houses behind the courthouse."
At the time, the support in Americus for the fledgling effort was not universial.
"If somebody didn't think much of Koinonia Farm, they didn't think much of Habitat," Myers said. "But he didn't care. He was on a mission. He absolutely did not care what others thought. He was going to accomplish his mission."
Habitat for Humanity took off when President Jimmy Carter became its most high-profile volunteer. Carter issued a statement Tuesday calling Fuller “one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known.”
"He created the most dynamic non-profit ever created in this country," Henson said.
To date, Habitat for Humanity chapters have built more than 300,000 homes world wide. In Columbus, the organization will construct its 250th home this year. The Columbus chapter, in large part because of Henson's relationship with Fuller, was one of the early Habitat for Humanity organizations.
But while Fuller was building houses across the globe, he was also fighting substandard housing in his own backyard. He set a goal to eliminate substandard homes in Sumter County, and did.
"He wasn't just a globetrotter," Myers said. "He took care of the folks at home, as well."
When Fuller and Habitat for Humanity went through a nasty divorce, Henson got a close view of Fuller and his resolve.
Henson brought Fuller to Columbus during that time to address college students on a spring-break building blitz.
"I will never forget what he said then," Henson said. "'The highs are never as high as they seem and the lows are never as low as they seem. But when you are low, you are always on your way up. We are on our way up.'"
At the time, Fuller could have had an office at Habitat and a salary as a parting gift, but he turned it down.
"He wasn't ready to leave and he wasn't ready to quit building," Henson said.
In 2005, Fuller gave a eulogy at the funeral of Myers' father.
"What he said about my daddy at that time is the same thing I would say about him," Myers said. "He said, 'Nobody thought for him. He thought for himself.' Nobody thought for Millard Fuller, he thought for himself.'"