Philanthropist and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus was honored at a gathering Sunday night at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. To mark his 90th birthday, friends and fans pledged more than $117 million to some of his favorite nonprofits, including the aquarium, Grady Health System’s Marcus Stroke & Neuroscience Center, the Marcus Autism Center which is now part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the SHARE Military Initiative at the Shepherd Center. 
Photo: Photo courtesy of the Georgia Aquarium
Photo: Photo courtesy of the Georgia Aquarium

Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus raises $117 million for nonprofits

What do you get for the 90th birthday of a guy who helped shape the economic, medical and entertainment landscape of Atlanta?

Try more than $117 million in donations to his favorite nonprofits, from the Georgia Aquarium to entities addressing strokes, autism and military veterans’ post-traumatic stress.

A fund-raising celebration Sunday night for philanthropist and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus started with $102 million in pledges from friends and fans. Then Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United team owner Arthur Blank, a fellow co-founder of Home Depot, Georgia’s largest public company by revenue, announced he would kick in another $15 million, in addition to a $5 million earlier pledge.

Among the donors, 23 people and organizations each donated $1 million or more.

The gathering at the Georgia Aquarium, which Marcus built as a gift to Georgia and Home Depot workers, drew hundreds of people, from corporate chief executives to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

President Donald Trump sent a video message.

“You are a special man, a brilliant man,” Trump said. Calling Marcus a friend, he said, “When I want advice I call you and you have plenty of advice…much of it I actually take, Bernie.”

Mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms (left) and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (right) talk with others before the start of Bernie Marcus’s 90th birthday party and fundraiser at the Georgia Aquarium on Sunday. 
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Home Depot workers also offered video messages, describing how the fruits of Marcus’ entrepreneurship helped them get homes, raise families and put kids through college.

In addition to starting a Fortune 500 company, Marcus and his wife, Billi, have donated nearly $2 billion to philanthropic nonprofits, according to his supporters.

The $117,688,180 raised to honor Marcus includes tens of millions of dollars each for the aquarium, Grady Health System’s Marcus Stroke & Neuroscience Center, Marcus Autism Center which is now part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the SHARE Military Initiative at the Shepherd Center. Some donors gave to other projects. Much of Blank’s donation will add to Marcus’ effort to create 20 additional centers around the nation to help veterans suffering from brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.

Marcus detailed some of the many needs to help others, from kids with autism to military veterans, who he said serve the nation and then are treated like second-rate citizens when they get out.

Marcus’ actual birthday was May 12, Mother’s Day.

“I was never meant to be,” he said. His mother had planned to stop having children, but a doctor suggested having a baby could help with her rheumatoid arthritis.

Marcus said when he and Blank came to Atlanta in 1978, “we had nothing.”

“Home Depot made us,” he said.

He called Atlanta “the most open-hearted city in the world.”

Marcus now lives primarily in Florida, but also spends part of the year at homes in Atlanta and North Carolina.

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