Jack Lupton appeared before the Hamilton County Commission in December 1985 to serve as a “cheerleader” for a public/private effort that would encourage riverfront development and other steps to make Chattanooga the best mid-sized city in America.
John T. “Jack” Lupton, who helped build Coca-Cola’s largest bottling empire and through his philanthropy led the revitalization of downtown Chattanooga, died Sunday at his home on Lookout Mountain.
He was 83.
A memorial service for Mr. Lupton is scheduled at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on Lookout Mountain. Arrangements are being handled by the Heritage Funeral Home in East Brainerd.
Mr. Lupton was praised Sunday by civic and political leaders for his generosity and commitment to his hometown. Through his own gifts and those of the Lyndhurst Foundation started by his father, Mr. Lupton was the driving force behind building the Tennessee Aquarium, the Honors Course, the Tennessee Riverwalk and scores of education, arts and other community projects.
“When most had given up on Chattanooga, he saw the great potential of the community that he loved and rallied us around his dream for the city that we enjoy today,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who called Mr. Lupton his mentor and friend. “That he was willing to risk his reputation that his civic endeavors, like the aquarium, would pan out was an inspiration to us all.”
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said Mr. Lupton “allowed his money to help the community find its footing and map out a new future for itself.”
The grandson of one of the three Chattanoogans who acquired the bottling rights for Coca-Cola in 1899, Mr. Lupton built his JTL Corp. into the world’s largest soft drink bottling company in the 1970s and 1980s. From his Chattanooga base, Jack Lupton nearly quadrupled the family’s bottling business during his decade as head of JTL.
Unable to entice any of his four children into the Coke bottling business, Mr. Lupton sold JTL for $1.2 billion in 1986.
The businessman-turned-philanthropist spent most of the past quarter century figuring how best to invest — and how best to give away — his family fortune.
Mr. Lupton, his family and Lyndhurst Foundation invested more than $20 million to help build the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, which opened as the Tennessee Aquarium on the downtown waterfront in 1992. Although he stepped down as chairman of the Lyndhurst Foundation in 1992, Mr. Lupton remained active in the family foundation, former Lyndhurst President Jack Murrah said.
“He was the most generous man I have ever known,” said Mr. Murrah, who worked with Mr. Lupton at the Lyndhurst Foundation for the past 32 years.
Charles Arant, the president of the Tennessee Aquarium who also worked with Mr. Lupton at the RiverCity Co., said “most people will never know all the ways that Mr. Lupton helped our community.”
In 2001, Mr. Lupton gave what was then the largest cash contribution to public higher education in Tennessee. Former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Bill Stacy remembered Mr. Lupton asking if $25 million would be enough to change the campus.
“After I picked myself off the floor, I told him yes,” Dr. Stacy said. “I loved Jack Lupton. He was terrific to this community. He spearheaded the transformation of UTC.”
Dr. Stacy identified new dormitories, three doctoral programs and the SimCenter National Center for Computational Engineering center at UTC that “weren’t there before Jack’s influence.”
Staff writer Chris Carroll contributed to this report.
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