LITTLE ROCK, AR – Jennings Osborne, the philanthropist whose Christmas lights and fireworks amazed millions died Wednesday after complications following heart surgery. He was 67.
Osborne often called himself “the luckiest guy in the world” for all that he was able to do with his wealth, which he made in the medical testing business.
In a statement sent out Wednesday, Governor Mike Beebe expressed his sympathies with the passing of Osborne. “With the passing of Jennings Osborne, Arkansas has lost one of our highest-profile philanthropists,” he said. “He brought comfort and entertainment to countless people, whether feeding disaster victims, donating fireworks, throwing unparalleled tailgate parties or lighting up Disney World. While a larger-than-life public figure, Jennings was also a kind and soft-spoken man, who always shared his financial success with others.”
If you live in Arkansas, whether you know it or not you’ve probably been touched by Jennings Osborne’s generosity in some way.
Maybe it was with millions of Christmas lights or Razorback barbeques or fourth of July fireworks.
If you love animals, so did Jennings Osborne. His $150,000 gift help save the Pulaski County Humane Society.
If you sympathize with storm victims, so did Jennings Osborne. Arkadelphia was one of many communities where Osborne has showed up unannounced to help feed families in need.
If you love kids, so did Jennings Osborne. He has paid for murdered children’s funerals and provided birthday gifts for countless kids who happen to be hospitalized on their big day.
If you like to eat, so did Jennings Osborne. His barbeques at tailgates and other events are legendary.
If you enjoy fireworks, so did Jennings Osborne. He bankrolls July 4th fireworks so central Arkansas can have a big night on Independence Day.
And Osborne’s love of Christmas lights proved so large that it took Graceland, Disney World and countless small Arkansas towns to satisfy. His kindness was random. His generosity often anonymous. His heart big, but weak.
“Last summer he had a heat stroke while he was mowing. His favorite thing to do,” said Mitzi Osborne, Jennings Osborne’s wife.
Jennings was diagnosed with diabetes in 1988 and had heart surgery in 1996.
After the heat stroke last August, Mitzi convinced Jennings to see a doctor. Turns out he had also suffered a heart attack.
“It was the aortic valve that needed replacing,” said Mitzi.
That meant another surgery, which Jennings underwent on April 18th. His heart actually recovered well.
“That did great,” said Mitzi. “Some of his organs were stunned I think. It’s what they called it. It stunned the kidneys. You know it takes a while to recover from something like that especially when you’ve had one before.”
Jennings Osborne was hospitalized for 100 days.
This long road to recovery for the Osborne’s has turned into a little bit of a role reversal. The man who took pride in giving to others said back in 2003, “I love to go into a small town and create memories and make people talk about it for weeks.”
During his illness he received end of love, prayers and support… from all walks of life. “Jimmy Carter has called two or three times which I think is kinda neat. President Clinton has written him a note and Governor Huckabee has been up to see him,” said Mitzi.
Whether from political leaders or school children, these kinds of messages are what inspired Jennings only daughter to create a fan page of sorts on Facebook so that even more people can share their stories.
“It motivated him in ways we didn’t even realize and I’m just so blessed that people wrote to him,” said Breezy. “He loved it.”
Mitzi and Breezy read every single comment with Jennings and they believe with all their heart that they made a difference.
And he may not have been talking about his own health back in 2003 but there is no doubt that Jennings agrees. “To me nothing is impossible. You can make anything happen,” said Jennings 8 years ago.
Even teaching a family that has only known how to give, how to receive for the first time. “And so for us to ask for prayers and to ask to just think about us, that’s hard asking,” said Breezy. “But it has tremendously helped him in the most incredible way.”
Jennings stayed at Baptist Hospital where the family says they have received exceptional care. He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Mitzi, and daughter, Breezy.