ATLANTA (AP) – A millionaire by the time he was 30, Millard Fuller gave up his fortune and invested his life in Habitat for Humanity – a Christian charity that has built more than 300,000 houses and turned poor people into homeowners by using “sweat equity” and no-interest loans.

Fuller, who co-founded Habitat with his wife Linda, died early Tuesday morning near his south Georgia home after suffering from chest pains, headache and difficulty swallowing, his wife said. He was 74.

The couple was planning to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in August with a 100-house worldwide “blitz build.” Those plans will likely go forward without him.

“Millard would not want people to mourn his death,” Linda Fuller said. “He would be more interested in having people put on a tool belt and build a house for people in need.”

From its beginning in 1976, headquartered in a tiny gray frame house that doubled as Fuller’s law office,

Habitat grew to a worldwide network that has provided shelter to more than 1.5 million people.

Habitat home buyers are required to work on their own houses, investing what the Fullers called “sweat equity.”

Preaching the “theology of the hammer,” Fuller built an army of volunteers that included former U.S. presidents, other world leaders and Hollywood celebrities.

One of Habitat’s highest-profile volunteers, former President Jimmy Carter, called 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,” Carter said in a statement. He called Fuller “an inspiration to me, other members of our family and an untold number of volunteers who worked side-by-side under his leadership.”

The son of a widower farmer in the cotton-mill town of Lanett, Ala., Fuller earned his first profit at age 6, selling a pig. While studying law at the University of Alabama, he formed a direct-marketing company with his friend Morris Dees – who later founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. – selling cookbooks and candy to high school chapters of the Future Homemakers of America. That business made them millionaires.

When Fuller’s capitalist drive threatened to kill his marriage, the couple, who wed in college, sold everything to devote themselves to the Christian values they grew up with.

“I gave away about $1 million,” Fuller said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press. “I wasn’t a multimillionaire; I was a poor millionaire.”

The couple’s search for a mission led them to Koinonia, an interracial farming collective outside the south Georgia town of Americus. There, with Koinonia founder Clarence Jordan, the Fullers developed the concept of building no-interest housing for the poor – an idea that eventually grew into Habitat for Humanity.

For the first 14 years, Fuller’s salary was just $15,000; his wife worked 10 years for free.

Fuller’s works won him numerous accolades, including a 1996 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. For nearly three decades, he was the public face of Habitat, traveling the world to hammer nails and press bricks from local clay alongside some of the Earth’s poorest.

Jeff Snider, executive vice president of Habitat during the early ’90s, recalled Fuller as a man driven by his commitment to the destitute. Once, Snider said he suggested setting aside some of the money Fuller raised.

“He had one and only one response, which was, ‘The poor, Jeff, need the money now,”‘ he said. “So we ran the place full tilt, on the edge all the time, and it was stressful – but he was right.”

A scandal that had smoldered for years flared anew in 2004 to sully Fuller’s legacy.

Habitat’s international board moved to oust Fuller as chief executive officer after allegations surfaced that he had sexually harassed a female staff member in 2003. The move came despite the board’s conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the charge.

However, the allegations mirrored complaints in 1990 from female staffers and volunteers that led to Fuller’s yearlong exile from the organization’s headquarters.

Fuller acknowledged he had kissed and hugged the women who made the 1990 complaints, but argued they had misinterpreted his actions. He categorically denied the later charge.

President Carter intervened in both instances to prevent the board from ousting Fuller.

In 2004, Fuller reached a compromise allowing him to stay on in the largely ceremonial role of “founder and president.” After the Fullers backed out of an agreement not to discuss the situation publicly, the board voted in 2005 to oust them.

Months later, the Fullers and their supporters formed The Fuller Center for Housing, a fundraising group for Habitat affiliates.

The ouster and a subsequent relocation of Habitat to Atlanta “cut the heart out of Habitat,” said Dees.

Fuller attributed his ouster to disagreements with the board over whether to slow the charity’s growth. He argued Habitat was becoming more bureaucracy than mission.

Throughout the scandal, Fuller insisted he did not want to do anything to compromise Habitat’s mission.

“I’ve always felt that this is God’s work,” he said. “And it’s always been bigger than me, from day one.”

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