The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - Obituary
Sunday 20 March 2005
by Derrick Henry
John Conant raised millions for charities.
John Conant led multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaigns for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, and the Bobby Dodd Institute.
As the guiding light of the John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Charitable Foundation, he funded many young and struggling agencies.
And he gave hundreds of thousands of his own money to non-profit organizations, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Georgia Shakespeare Festival and Presbyterian Homes of Georgia.
"There is hardly a charitable organization in this community that John Conant did not touch in some way" said attorney Neil Williams of Atlanta, Chairman of the Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center.
"There are a lot of leaders that motivate people; John Conant inspired people" said Jerry Tipton of Atlanta, president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.
John Ackerman Conant, 81, of Atlanta died Wednesday of pneumonia at Presbyterian Village in Austell. The body was cremated. The memorial service is 11 am Monday at Trinity Presbyterian Church. H.M. Patterson & Son is in charge of the arrangements.
Mr. Conant knew what it was like to overcome adversity. While working as a telephone line repairman in the South Pacific during World War II, he contracted polio.
"He was totally paralyzed apart from one finger, and was put in an iron lung", said his daughter Margaret Reiser of Atlanta.
Mr. Conant spent a year of rehabilitation at the Roosevelt Institute in Warm Springs, and would need to use crutches, braces, and ultimately a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
It did not slow him down.
"John never talked about why something could not be done. He like to talk about how things could be done" Mr. Williams said.
Mr. Conant earned a degree from Yale University, then came to Atlanta to work as a stockbroker.
Two years later he married Miriam "Bimby" Conant the only daughter of John H. Harland, an Irish immigrant who made his fortune in the check-printing industry. Mr. Harland persuaded Mr. Conant to work for him; he retired in 1988 as senior vice-president of marketing. Soon after the Harland Foundation was created in 1972 Mr. Conant became its leader and remained so for more than 20 years. The foundation has assets of 32 million dollars. It distributes $1.5 million dollars a year, said his daughter, the president of the board.
In running the foundation, Mr. Conant focused on small agencies. He particularly gravitated towards causes that helped people overcome obstacles.
One was Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, which refurbishes and gives away wheelchairs, hospital beds and other medical equipment.
"There are thousands and thousands of people in Georgia and 65 countries around the world who have wheelchairs and other devices because of John Conant" said Ed Butchart of Stone Mountain, founder of the organization. "John kept us afloat when things got tough financially".
Mr. Conant was a successful fund-raiser for two reasons, Mr. Williams said
"John had absolute sincerity and dedication to the causes he supported, and when he got involved, he gave most generously himself".
Mr. Conant maintained an open door policy at the Harland Foundation, said Gail Byers of Atlanta, the foundation's grant manager. "Even when he didn't give organizations money, he gave them hope and new ideas. He had a heart for everybody and made everyone feel important and loved”.
At the Georgia Shakespeare Festival "he would come to all the shows, bringing six or eight people with him" said the company's producing director, Richard Garner of Atlanta. "He had a deep knowledge of literature and knew many of the artists by name. When one of the actors said 'Mr. C's in the house' we knew we would give a good show"
The Festival's Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe University, which opened in 1997, is named for Mr. Conant and his late wife, his partner in philanthropy. In 1988, the Conants were named Georgia Philanthropists of the Year. Survivors include a brother, Richard Conant of Southport, Maine; his daughter Margaret & a grandson.