Atlanta philanthropist Michael C. Carlos, who donated nearly $20 million over two decades to the Emory museum that bears his name, died of lung cancer in December at age seventy-five.

“Michael Carlos was much more than a benefactor,” says President William M. Chace. “He was an extraordinary friend of the University and an important contributor to the intellectual life of Emory. He leaves a lasting influence on the growth and programs of the museum.”

Carlos was chairman and chief executive officer of National Distributing Company, a wine and spirits wholesaler founded by his father, a Greek immigrant who came to Georgia in 1900. As a tribute to his heritage, Carlos’ last and largest gift to the museum was a $10 million pledge in 1999, for the acquisition of Greek and Roman masterpieces.

With the funds, the museum was able to purchase rare artifacts from all over the world, including a terracotta drinking cup painted by one of Athens’ finest artists, a Grecian vessel depicting Odysseus escaping the cave of Polyphemus, a Minoan bathtub (one of three on display in America), a bronze Hydria vessel, and a Roman sarcophagus with depictions of Romulus and Remus on the lid. The museum also hired a full-time Greek and Roman curator, Jasper Gaunt, to oversee the collection, which is on permanent display in the Carlos Court galleries.

Carlos has shaped the museum’s space and collections since his initial pledge of $1.5 million in 1981. The facility was named in his honor after a 1990 pledge of $3.5 million, the impetus for the museum’s 35,000-square-foot expansion, designed by architect Michael Graves, which opened in 1993.

His vision helped transform Emory’s museum from a ragtag collection to one of the most significant university museums in the country, says Board of Trustees chair Ben Johnson. “There was a certain unscripted, spontaneous spirit to him,” Johnson says. “When he thought it was time to move a project along, he would . . . give the first gift.”

Carlos received an honorary degree from Emory in 1989, and was named Georgia Philanthropist of the Year in 1992. “He was the most decisive philanthropist I’ve ever known,” said former Emory President James T. Laney. “In his personal life, he wanted to be private, but his name, he wanted recognized.” –M.J.L.

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