The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Millard Fuller, the visionary Christian with a single-minded, some say stubborn, focus that resulted in more than 300,000 houses built for the poor, died unexpectedly Monday night.

Fuller, 74, was the driving force in founding Habitat for Humanity in 1976, a nonprofit that started in little Americus, Ga., but whose name is known around the world. After a rancorous split from the organization in 2005, he founded a new organization, the Fuller Center for Housing in Americus, which was doing the same work.

He had been sick in recent days with chest congestion, said Holly Chapman, a spokeswoman for the Fuller Center, based in Americus.

Jackie Goodman of Atlanta, who volunteered with Habitat and the Fuller Center, said Fuller was well enough to participate Monday in a conference call with affiliates of the Fuller Center.

He got worse Monday night. His wife Linda told the Associated Press he was complaining of chest pains, headache and difficulty swallowing. He died in an ambulance that was taking him to a hospital Albany, Chapman said.

“We are all deeply saddened and in a state of shock,” she said.

Despite the recent illness, Fuller was vigorous and kept a busy schedule and had recently visited El Salvador.

Chapman said, “He was quite irritated that he had been sick lately, because he had never been sick a day in his life.”

Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center build houses for the poor in the U.S. and around the world. The families who live in the houses must help build them alongside volunteers, and they must pay back a no-interest loan that makes the housing affordable.

Habitat attracts volunteers from across America, from blue collar workers to former presidents such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, from back-porch pickers to recording stars, all joining to nail shingles or drywall.

“Millard Fuller was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known,” Carter said in a statement issued Tuesday. “He used his remarkable gifts as an entrepreneur for the benefit of millions of needy people around the world by providing them with decent housing.”

Kent Watkins, who helps head up missions programs at Saint James United Methodist Church in Atlanta, said Fuller’s work not only changes the lives of those who live in Habitat and Fuller houses, but also the lives of volunteers.

“People go down on a project thinking they are going down to help somebody,” he said. “They come back changed by the experience.”

They become more giving, and volunteers rarely stop at helping build one house, he said.

Fuller started his new organization after splitting with Habitat, whose board fired him in 2005 for making “divisive” and “disruptive” comments.

He was not pleased with Habitat’s move to downtown Atlanta and the more bureaucratic approach of the new leadership, said Morris Dees, a college buddy and former law and business partner with Fuller in their early years. Dees founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization. The two had become wealthy together before Fuller gave it up for what Dees called “his religious work.”

The Habitat board also investigated Fuller for sexual harassment but found “insufficient proof of inappropriate conduct.”

Goodman said Fuller put that chapter behind him and moved on, founding the Fuller Center to do homebuilding according to his own vision.

“I think the more than 1 million people who live in homes built under Millard will say he was a giant of a man who changed their lives.”

Jonathan Reckford, the chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, said in a press release, “Millard Fuller was a force of nature who turned a simple idea into an international organization that has helped more than 300,000 families move from deplorable housing into simple, decent homes they helped build and can afford to buy and live in. The entire Habitat family mourns the loss of our founder, a true giant in the affordable housing movement.”

Details about services will be posted at


  • 1968: The Fund for Humanity is created.
  • 1969: The first partnership house is completed in Sumter County, Ga.
  • 1973: Millard and Linda Fuller move from Koinonia, taking the principles of Partnership Housing and the Fund for Humanity to Africa.
  • 1976: The Fullers return from Africa, and Habitat for Humanity is formed with headquarters in Americus. Construction begins on the first house in San Antonio, Texas, Habitat’s first affiliate. The first partnership houses are completed in Zaire.
  • 1977: Clive Rainey joins Habitat for Humanity International as its first volunteer. HFHI is formally incorporated under the laws of the state of Georgia, March 18.
  • 1978: San Antonio becomes the first U.S. Habitat affiliate outside of Georgia.
  • 1979: HFHI headquarters moves from Millard Fuller’s law office to a renovated house next door. The first Habitat house in Americus is built. Guatemala becomes the first Habitat affiliate in Latin America.
  • 1981: Habitat celebrates its fifth anniversary with a total of 14 U.S. and seven international affiliates. Houses built: 342.
  • 1983: HFHI declares the third Sunday in September as the first International Day of Prayer and Action for Human Habitat. HFHI celebrates its seventh anniversary in Indianapolis.
  • 1984: “Habitat World,” a publication about Habitat’s work, is introduced. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn become Habitat partners. The first Jimmy Carter Work Project is held in New York. The tithe program is written into Habitat’s U.S. affiliate covenant.
  • 1986: The first Habitat affiliate in Canada is approved. HFHI celebrates its 10th anniversary with a 1,000-mile walk from Americus to Kansas City, Mo.. The walk is led by Millard and Linda Fuller.
  • 1987: HFHI headquarters moves to 121 Habitat Street in Americus. The Habitat for Humanity International board of directors approves the Youth Programs department. The first campus chapter is at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Habitat is formed in Australia.
  • 1988: HFHI celebrates its 12th anniversary with a twelve hundred-mile walk from Portland, Maine to Atlanta. The first affiliate in Australia begins. High school students become a part of the Youth Programs family when Marist School in Atlanta forms the first secondary school campus chapter. Habitat’s Global Village short-term mission program, which offers vacation builds around the world, is established. The Global Village and Corporate Donor departments are established.
  • 1989: Hurricane Hugo hits South Carolina; all Habitat homes in the state survive the storm.: Abilene, Texas becomes the 500th U.S. affiliate. Bo and Emma Johnson pay off their mortgage on the first Koinonia Partnership home. The first international Campus Chapter begins at the University of Technology in Lae, Papua New Guinea. Habitat’s 10,000th house is built. Ernestine Higgins in Atlanta is the proud homeowner. Habitat’s first all-women-built house is completed in Charlotte, N.C. The first Habitat ReStore opens in Winnipeg, Canada. Habitat ReStores are retail outlets where quality used and surplus building materials donated from outside companies and organizations are sold at a fraction of normal prices. Proceeds from ReStores help local affiliates fund the construction of Habitat houses within the community.
  • 1990: After Fuller is accused of making inappropriate comments, hugging and touching five female workers, the Board threatens to fire him. Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn threaten to withdraw their support if the Board forces Millard’s resignation. No charges are filed, and Fuller apologizes to the women. The first international campus chapter is chartered at the University of Technology in Lae, Papua New Guinea.
  • 1990: Abilene, Texas becomes the 500th U.S. affiliate. Bo and Emma Johnson pay off their mortgage on the first Koinonia Partnership home. The first international Campus Chapter begins at the University of Technology in Lae, Papua New Guinea.
  • 1991: Fuller resigns briefly after an ultimatum by the Board that would have stripped him of authority as president.
  • 1992: The first Native American affiliate is approved to address the desperate need for decent housing throughout America’s Indian reservations. The Sumter County Initiative begins with the goal to eliminate poverty housing in Americus and Sumter County, Georgia by the year 2000. U.S. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore work on a Habitat for Humanity house in Atlanta. The first Habitat ReStore in the United States opens in Austin, Texas.
  • 1993: Habitat completes its 20,000th house worldwide during a 20-house blitz build in Americus.
  • 1994: The first Jimmy Carter Work Project on an American Indian reservation is held in Eagle Butte, S.D. Habitat is named the 17th largest homebuilder in the United States. Habitat completes its 30,000th house worldwide with a blitz build in Americus.
  • 1995: HFHI headquarters moves to a renovated three-story complex at 322 West Lamar Street in downtown Americus. Habitat celebrates the first Building on Faith observance—a campaign designed to involve the faith community in Habitat’s work—with the dedication of its 40,000th house.
  • 1996: U.S. President Bill Clinton awards Fuller the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Habitat dedicates its 50,000th house worldwide in Pensacola, Fla. The 50,001st house is celebrated in Mexico City. The house also represents the 6,500th Habitat house built in Mexico. Habitat for Humanity begins building in its 50th nation, Romania. Jimmy Carter Work Project participants—500 strong—gather in Vác, Hungary to build 10 houses. India’s first affiliate, HFH Khammam, celebrates its 12th anniversary and dedicates its 1,000th house.
  • 1997: Oprah Winfrey launches her “Build an Oprah House” Project. Habitat’s 60,000th house is dedicated in Dallas.
  • 1998: Habitat’s 500th campus chapter, St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, dedicates the 100th house built by college and high school students. Habitat’s 70,000th house is dedicated in Canton, Ohio.: Habitat for Humanity International officially forms the Women Build department.
  • 1999: HFHI’s former headquarters building at 121 Habitat Street is renamed the Clarence Jordan Center in honor of Clarence Jordan, a founder and leader of Koinonia Farm, where Jordan and Millard Fuller introduced the concept of partnership housing,” making Koinonia the inspiration for HFHI. Habitat’s 80,000th house is dedicated in Mexico City.
  • 2000: Habitat’s 100,000th house is dedicated in September in New York.
  • 2001: Habitat celebrates its 25th anniversary in Indianapolis, Indiana with a blitz build, resulting in the completion of 25 houses. U.S. President George W. Bush works on a Habitat for Humanity home in Tampa, Florida. Millard and Linda Fuller travel to Uganda and several other African nations to celebrate the 20,000th house built on the continent of Africa.
  • 2002: A team of volunteers in Shelby County, Ala., break the record for the fastest Habitat house build, completed in just 3 1/2 hours. Habitat builds its tallest Habitat building (five-story condominium) in San Francisco.
  • 2003: Habitat for Humanity opens the Global Village & Discovery Center in Americus, which displays replicas of Habitat houses from around the world. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Zambia President Kenneth David Kaunda are in attendance. Building on the Dream is introduced as an annual event in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. Habitat receives the 2003 Campbell Research Inc. Donor Approval Award. Habitat’s 150,000th house is built in Romania. The 50,000th U.S. and Latin America house milestone is reached.
  • 2004: Habitat for Humanity International and the United Nations Human Settlements Program partner to address urban poverty and disaster relief issues in developing countries. HFHI reaches its 100-country goal. Habitat is featured in the 2004 edition of America’s Greatest Brands. Habitat celebrates the 10th Anniversary of Building on Faith. Habitat celebrates its 800th campus chapter worldwide at the International School Manila in the Philippines.
  • January 31, 2005, the board fires Fuller and his wife, citing “a pattern of ongoing public comments and communications by the Fullers that have been divisive and disruptive.” Habitat for Humanity International’s board of directors names Jonathan T.M. Reckford to serve as the organization’s new chief executive officer. In May, the Habitat Board sues him after he names his new non profit, “Building Habitat,” claiming the name infringed on Habitat’s trademark and would confuse donors. Fuller later renames his charity, the Fuller Center for Housing. In June, while returning from the Atlanta airport on I-185 north, the sedan Linda Fuller is driving hydroplanes. Linda and Millard escape the accident unharmed. In Knoxville, Habitat celebrates the construction of its 200,000th house. HFHI launches its new logo. In El Salvador, 45 churches from around the world blitz build 20 houses to launch Habitat’s largest international church campaign to date—building 500 houses within five years in that country. Habitat for Humanity International establishes a national Cars for Homes vehicle donation program. Habitat launches “Operation Home Delivery” to help provide assistance and rebuild along the U.S. Gulf Coast in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Habitat for Humanity Jamaica assists victims of Hurricane Ivan, providing houses for more than 210 families in five communities.
  • 2006: The 1,000th tsunami-recovery house constructed in Sri Lanka is dedicated. Habitat hosts a leadership conference in Charlotte in celebration of 30 years of building decent, affordable shelter in partnership with families in need. Women Build kicks off “First Families Building Homes Across America,” an initiative that unites governors’ spouses and other local and statewide leaders and women volunteers to construct Habitat homes in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia. Habitat for Humanity announces that in the two years since the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami, the organization has assisted nearly 10,000 families with permanent housing in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
  • 2007: Habitat celebrates the construction of its 1,000th and 1,001st hurricane-recovery houses built along the U.S. Gulf Coast in May.
  • 2008: Habitat celebrates the construction of its 50,000th house in Africa and the Middle East. Habitat’s 300,000th house is built in Naples, Florida; the 300,001st is built in Zacapa, Guatemala. Habitat is named the 14th largest homebuilder in the U.S. and the 14th top charitable organization.

Source: Habitat for Humanity International — AJC News Researcher Joni Zeccola

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