John William Pope got his first taste of the variety-retail business as a youngster growing up in Depression-era Fuquay Springs, North Carolina, where he worked the cash register in his father’s five and dime store. It was a humble beginning for a man who, one day, would grow the business into Variety Wholesalers Inc., a network stores serving 300 communities across the southeast — a business legacy that continues to flourish to this day.

As a teenager, though, John wasn’t quite ready to join the family business yet. In the spring of 1940, he graduated from high school at the age of 16, packed his bags for the 30-mile trip north to Chapel Hill, and became the first member of his family to attend college. In 1943, with his degree only half completed, John joined the war effort. After returning from overseas, he graduated in 1947 — seven years after first entering school — with a bachelor’s degree in commerce.

In a booming post-war economy, the world seemed a giant oyster for an ambitious young businessman. While managing the Warwick Hotel and Coffee Shoppe in Lillington, John began manufacturing mop heads on the side, an endeavor that would produce valuable lessons for his future in retail. In 1949, newly married to wife Joyce, John officially took over his father’s five discount-variety stores in Fuquay Springs.

John William Pope, 1924-2006.

During the decade of the 1950s, John and Joyce had three children — John Jr., Amanda, and James “Art” — and expanded the family business significantly. By 1956, Variety Wholesalers had grown to 14 stores and enjoyed sales of over $1 million for the first time. Fifteen years later, by the time John was 45, the business had blossomed to nearly 50 stores and $6 million in sales.

“There was no written business plan,” John said. “I simply did what I had to do every day to succeed. I just put one foot in front of the other every day.”

As 1981 dawned, Variety Wholesalers boasted 228 stores and a position as the largest privately owned retail variety store chain in the southeast. By 1986, profits from his business had allowed John to create a foundation. Its mission: to protect and advance the liberties of North Carolinians so that future generations could have the same opportunities enjoyed by the Pope family — the freedom to create wealth for the benefit of all.

The Foundation has channeled its resources into four focus areas: Public policy, education, humanitarian work, and the arts. For the past 25 years, the Foundation has made grants designed to influence society to foster more success stories like that of the Pope family.

Following John William Pope’s death in 2006, his youngest son, Art, became Chairman and CEO of Variety Wholesalers and Chairman and President of the Pope Foundation. Art remains as Chairman of the Board, and with the Board of Directors, continues to preserve John William Pope’s philanthropic vision and legacy.

To the day he passed away, John William Pope believed that hard work was the key to success. “If you love what you are doing,” he said, “are willing to take risks to accomplish your goals, have the support of your family and good people working with you, then you can be a successful entrepreneur whether you are in your twenties or your seventies or eighties.”

“The John William Pope Foundation is known in North Carolina and across the nation for its unwavering support for the ideals of liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government. The trustees and staff of the Pope Foundation are widely admired among those who work in other foundations for the high intellectual standards and the spirit of innovation that they apply to their philanthropy. Examples of their far-sighted philanthropy are too numerous to list; a few examples will suffice to demonstrate why the Pope Foundation is held in such high regard in philanthropic circles. Its support for the John Locke Foundation has helped to build that institution into an influential voice for liberty and common sense in North Carolina. Today it is widely regarded as one of the most influential state level policy institutes in the country. The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy is an independent research institute founded and supported by the Pope Foundation that is an indispensable guide for those or us working to bring about reform in our colleges and universities. I am especially grateful to the Pope Foundation for providing the seed funding for the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University, an important intellectual initiative designed to revive the study of economic thought and political economy in the economics profession. Under the direction of Dr. Bruce Caldwell, this Center has already made impressive progress along these lines. I look to all of these programs and institutions for guidance and inspiration, and in some cases have participated in decisions to join forces with the Pope Foundation in providing funding for them. One cannot help but admire the trustees and staff of the John William Pope Foundation for their efforts to turn North Carolina into a laboratory of liberty that the rest of us can look to as a model for the nation.”
James Piereson
President, William E. Simon Foundation