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Habitat for Humanity founder dies at 74

Washington

MILLARD Fuller, a 74-year-old self-made millionaire who gave away his wealth to start the Christian house-building group Habitat for Humanity and who later started a similar organisation after he was fired over disputes with the Habitat board, died on Sunday en route to a hospital in Albany, Georgia.

An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of death.

Habitat for Humanity, founded in 1976 and based in Americus, Georgia, built more than 175,000 houses in 100 countries under Mr Fuller's leadership and attracted prominent volunteers, including former US president Jimmy Carter.

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The Fuller Center for Housing, founded in 2005, raises money for Habitat affiliates.

Hundreds of thousands of families who lived in substandard housing and who did not earn enough to buy a home through conventional channels benefited from Habitat's policy of no-interest mortgages.

Would-be homeowners had to make a small down payment and spend a certain number of hours building their home along with volunteers.

In a statement, Mr Carter called Mr Fuller "one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known".

"He used his remarkable gifts as an entrepreneur for the benefit of millions of needy people around the world by providing them with decent housing," Mr Carter said.

"As the founder of Habitat for Humanity and later the Fuller Center, he was an inspiration to me, other members of our family and an untold number of volunteers who worked side-by-side under his leadership."

In 1996, Mr Fuller received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honour.

In 2005, he and his wife, Linda, who co-founded Habitat, were honored by former president George HW Bush and the Points of Light Foundation with a bronze medallion embedded in the Extra Mile volunteer pathway in Washington.

Mr Fuller's legacy was tainted in early 2005 when a former employee said he sexually harassed her, about 15 years after at least five other former employees made similar claims.

Mr Fuller denied the allegations, and the Habitat board of directors said it could not substantiate the charges. Nonetheless, he was fired.

Mr Fuller attributed his ousting to his continual efforts to expand the organisation's operations. He started a new group called "Building Habitat" until the Habitat for Humanity board filed suit. It became the Fuller Center for Housing.

In addition to his wife, survivors include four children and eight grandchildren. The Fullers planned to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in August with a 100-house worldwide "blitz build", Linda Fuller said.

"We'll probably go ahead with the 'blitz build.' Millard would not want people to mourn his death," she said. "He would be more interested in having people put on a tool belt and build a house for people in need." AFP