Pope Exposed: News & Observer Columnist Covers ‘The Giving Side of Art Pope’

Posted on:

On December 23, 2014,  News & Observer columnist Barry Saunders wrote about Art Pope, the philanthropist, and his work with the Pope Foundation.  The column appears below and can be read online at:

Saunders: The giving side of Art Pope


Ah, man. It would be the social event of the season – nay, of the millennium – but alas, it’ll never happen, cap’n.

They wouldn’t even have to pay me to cover a wang dang doodle attended by people from all of the groups that get money from the J.W. Pope Foundation: just being there and seeing those in tuxes and tatters mingling would be payment a’plenty.

Since 1986, the beau monde and thedemimonde – that’s the high-class swells who dine at white-linen establishments and the struggling soup-kitchen mavens who do what they have to to survive – have benefited from the altruistic contributions of the organization headed by Art Pope.

Yes, that Art Pope.

Pope, the current chairman and president of the Pope Foundation and Variety Wholesalers Inc., is the most polarizing person in state politics – and he’s not even in politics. Depending upon on which side of the aisle one stands, Pope is a selfless patriot or a reactionary zealot who at best is indifferent to the poor.

While serving as Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director, Pope was thought by many to be the state’s real chief executive, earning the sobriquet “Pope Art” and “knight of the right.”

I always doubted that Pope was controlling state government, because much of it has been so dysfunctional that it would be hard to find Pope’s imprint on it.

It’s not hard to find it on Step Up Ministry, though. Steve Swayne, CEO of the nonprofit jobs and life skills training program, said the $25,000 his organization received from the Pope Foundation “will help us place 30 people in jobs. … Many of these people have been in the criminal justice system, over half of them have been homeless.”

It has placed 554 in jobs this year.

Whenever I’ve sought comments from Pope in the past, it was about some political move that had infuriated half of the populace and delighted others. That’s why when I called and left a message last week, I hurried up and let his office know that I come in peace, in recognition of the Christmas season.

Philanthropic father

When I reached him by phone, he explained that his father, John W. Pope, had long been philanthropic. “My parents gave directly … and the company gave to local charities in the areas where we had employees. … When I joined the family business in 1986, he wanted to channel the family and company charitable giving through a foundation. One of the first tasks he assigned to me was to form this Pope Foundation.”

Pope said the group’s local humanitarian giving is centered in Wake, Vance and Harnett counties. “That’s where our family is from, where the company is from, where most of our employees are. Mainly, it’s a geographic criteria. … We have a board of directors – originally, it was just me sitting down with my father reviewing the grant requests. In the last six or seven years, we’ve gotten more professional, a staff with grant officers – not many: we only have two people on the payroll. I’m not on the payroll, by the way.

“They review and recommend the grantees, and we present it to the board of directors and the board approves it,” he said.

Just reading the list of the groups that received almost $2 million in December is enough to set the mind a-racing at the thought of seeing them all coming together. In addition to Step Up Ministry, groups as disparate as the N.C. Symphony, N.C. Museum of Art, Helping Horse Therapeutic Riding Program, Carolina Ballet, Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen, Safe Haven for Cats, and the Food Banks of Central and Eastern North Carolina all received grants from the foundation.

Pope, in a news release, said, “The old ‘give a man a fish’ parable is that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but that if you teach a man how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. We believe in doing both.”

That’s cool, but too many people don’t consider that, for a man to fish, he at least needs a pole. And a lake.




Categories: In the Headlines, Philanthropy