John Kluge, the self-made billionaire who died on September 7, two weeks short of his 96th birthday, was celebrated this afternoon in a 85-minute ceremony in a wooded glen tucked into Monticello Memorial Gardens. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the world-renowned mindfulness teacher and poet Jonathan Paul Walton, one of hundreds of beneficiaries of Kluge’s $400 million scholarship gift to Columbia University, offered the benedictions. Kluge made his home in Albemarle, among other places, with his wife Maria Tussi Kluge.
What emerged was a portrait of a man who, for all his remarkable generosity, was, as Kabat-Zinn said, "a person like any other person." With a gentle smile, Kabat-Zinn referred to Kluge as a "trickster" and both he and Walton invoked Kluge’s often-made invitation to "put your cards on the table."
For all that, Kluge "had a quality akin to the Dalai Lama," said Kabat-Zinn. "The Dalai Lama is the only person aside from John Kluge who I’ve been in the presence of who doesn’t care what your status is in society. He treats everyone of equal importance."
And many facets of society and Kluge’s life were present at Monticello Memorial Gardens, including Virginia’s First Lady Maureen McDonnell, who was accompanied by Patricia Kluge, one of his ex-wives, and her husband Bill Moses. Business leaders, artists, young children, and many who have benefited from Kluge’s philanthropy were there.
Music was provided by the Mount Zion First African Baptist Church Choir, which performed Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah" during the internment, beautifully led by soloist Telly Tucker.