During his lifetime, John Marque was known as a bar-fly and a curmudgeon, but to those lucky enough to be close to him, he was known as the kind of generous friend who slipped money to the staff at the Azalea Grill on Jefferson Highway where he ate breakfast each morning or someone who gave money to friends in need, but always with the caveat that the gifts be kept secret. In 2008, Marque passed away after a long battle with cancer, and like the way he lived his life, he was generous even in death. He left his fortune to the Greater New Orleans Foundation in an endowed fund named after his parents, the Theresa Bittenbring Marque and John Henry Marque Fund. The gift marked the single largest donation in the more than 30-year history of the Foundation: more than $20 million.
To honor his generosity and celebrate his memory, the Foundation recently hosted an event at his favorite bar, The Carrollton Station. Representatives from nonprofits that his fund supports attended to share stories about the continued impact his gifts make, both within their organizations and within the people who unknowingly benefit from his gifts.
David Niebuhr, Managing Director of the Nature Center and Vice President for Education of the Audubon Institute, summed up Marque’s humble style of giving when he explained that, “It’s about the work you do, quietly and meaningfully.” This description could not be more apt for a man who traded stocks and managed his late parents’ real estate investments as a private hobby and who spent very little of his fortune on himself. In fact, he drove an old Saturn and bought his shirts on sale.
Ana Zorilla, CEO of the LASPCA, expanded on this idea by sharing a specific story of a pet owner who could not afford surgery for his elderly dog, so was considering surrendering his beloved pet to the LASPCA in order to save his life, as he knew the dog could be cared for by them. Because of Marque’s gift, the LASPCA was able to pay for the dog’s surgery, thereby keeping him in his home and sparing his owner the emotional loss of losing a pet. In this way, Marque’s gifts are “a multiplier helping some of the most vulnerable animals, kids and adults in our community.”
Tom Costanza, Divisions Chair of Catholic Charities, agreed with this sentiment, saying that “his gift inspires others to pay it forward, in whatever way they can,” and it is in this way that John Marque continues to live. For a man who insisted his generosity be kept a secret, it is clear that his life and his philanthropic legacy will continue to inspire people in our community for many years to come.
Since the Fund was established, more than $7 million has been awarded to over 20 organizations, including: Audubon Nature Institute; Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans; Covenant House; Doctors Without Borders; Friends of City Park; LASPA; Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra; New Orleans Fire Department; New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation; New Orleans Opera Association; Ozanam Inn; Remote Area Medical; WYES; and, WWNO. Additionally, Marque’s own experiences in the hospital during the final months of his life, as well as many years of caring for his father, gave him a special appreciation for the kindness and cheerfulness shown to patients by nursing students. Never one to let a gift go unrecognized, Marque set aside an annual bequest of $50,000 to be divided equally among the top five graduates of five area nursing schools.