John T. 'Jack' Lupton, whose business acumen helped build Coca-Cola's largest bottling enterprise and whose vision and philanthropy led to the renaissance of Chattanooga's downtown and to the growth of other institutions vital to the community, died Sunday at 83. His quiet but forceful presence and his effective leadership will be missed.
Mr. Lupton was a man of diverse interests. Over the course of his life and his public career, he was a spectacularly successful businessman, an inspiring civic leader and a generous benefactor to innumerable community projects and institutions. His work and deeds over the decades will leave an indelible imprint on the community and the region he was extraordinarily proud to call home.
Mr. Lupton, the grandson of one of three Chattanoogans who acquired the bottling rights for Coca-Cola in 1899, achieved prominence through his family business. In the 1970s and 1980s, his JTL Corp. became the largest soft drink bottling company in the world. In his decade as head of that enterprise, Mr. Lupton built an operation that nearly quadrupled the family's bottling business. In 1986, Mr. Lupton sold the business for $1.2 billion.
Though Mr. Lupton had always been involved in the community's civic and philanthropic life, his retirement from the day-to-day business world allowed him to vigorously pursue other interests. Foremost among them was his desire to make Chattanooga a more attractive and engaging place. To that end, he spent more than two decades working to make that vision come true.
Mr. Lupton, his family and the family's Lyndhurst Foundation invested time, thought and funds in a variety of projects that have changed the face and reputation of Chattanooga.
His investment of more than $20 million in the early 1990s helped underwrite construction of the Tennessee Aquarium on the southern shore of the Tennessee River. The freshwater facility proved immensely popular in its own right -- and it continues to serve as a catalyst for commercial and residential growth on both the southern and northern shores of the river. It's not an exaggeration to say that Chattanooga's increasing national prominence and growing reputation as a desirable place to live, work and visit is in large part a direct result of Mr. Lupton's bold ideas and his willingness to provide both blueprint and capital to support his vision.
Mr. Lupton's philanthropy was not limited solely to civic improvement. His generosity, like his interests, was wide ranging.
His gifts, for example, served educational institutions at all levels. In 2001, Mr. Lupton gave $25 million to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It was, at the time, the largest single cash contribution to public higher education in Tennessee history. Mr. Lupton was a major benefactor of the arts and other endeavors as well. Though much of his philanthropy was public, some was not. The community, in fact, is unlikely to learn the full extent of Mr.. Lupton's generosity over the years. He preferred it that way.
Jack Lupton was a man of many interests whose love for and service to his community was an integral part of his life. Though Mr. Lupton's loss will be felt most keenly by his wife, by his children and by other members of his family, the community and the institutions he served so lovingly and so well should mourn his passing, and remember him with tremendous respect and great affection.