Throughout his life, John Marque helped others. He slipped money to the staff at the Azalea Grill on Jefferson Highway where he ate breakfast each morning. He gave money to friends who needed assistance, but he always asked that the gifts be kept secret. Trading stocks and managing his late parents’ real estate investments was a private hobby for Marque, who spent very little of his fortune on himself. He drove an old Saturn and bought his shirts on sale. To an outside observer, he was just a regular guy.
Marque, a bachelor, lived in the house in which he was raised in the university neighborhood. A graduate of Tulane, he served in the Air Force in Korea and worked as an attorney and financier. He collected stamps, classical music recordings, and books about World War II. He taught himself several foreign languages and was given to singing with the other regulars at Carrollton Station. He is warmly remembered by many friends. But no one guessed the extent of his wealth.
Marque passed away in 2008 after a long battle with cancer. 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 marked the single largest donation in the 25-year history of the Foundation: more than $20 million.
Marque’s quiet generosity will touch the lives of generations to come, both in and outside of New Orleans, through annual grants to a wide variety of organizations.
Marque supported the arts by naming the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the New Orleans Opera Association as grant receipients. He remembered local media through grants to WYES and WWNO. He helped homeless adults and youth by donating to Ozanam Inn and Covenant House. He supported animals and nature through gifts to the SPCA and the Audubon Nature Institute. His kindness crossed international borders in the form of large grants to Remote Area Medical and Doctors Without Borders.
Some of Marque’s designations were for very specific purposes. Grants of more than $10,000 per year to the Friends of the New Orleans Fire Department and the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation are to be spent on personal protective equipment for firemen and police officers, respectively. A gift to Friends of City Park, restricted to capital improvement projects, has brought parkgoers some new workout equipment, and additional funds will be used for a new miniature golf course and a new entrance to Storyland and the Botanical Garden. A grant of $200,000 to Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans will help struggling families pay for medical emergencies.
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 $25,000 to be divided equally among the top five graduates of five area nursing schools.
In the first four years since the Fund was established, more than $1.6 million in grants have been given out.