Tom Eblen

Financier Tom Dupree Sr. made a lot of money. What he loved most was giving it away.

Tom and Ann Todd Dupree posed on a bench at the then-new Dupree Nature Preserve in Polly's Bend of the Kentucky 
River in Garrard County in September 2013.
Tom and Ann Todd Dupree posed on a bench at the then-new Dupree Nature Preserve in Polly's Bend of the Kentucky River in Garrard County in September 2013.

Tom Dupree Sr., a financial entrepreneur who became a major donor to Kentucky causes including wilderness conservation and the Lexington Philharmonic, died Sunday. He was 87.

Dupree had lived with Parkinson’s disease for 22 years, but he remained active until recently.

He was the Philharmonic’s largest donor, and his financial support and involvement with land conservation led to a new nature preserve along the Kentucky River Palisades being named for him in 2013.

“He liked giving money away,” said his son, Tom Dupree Jr., who now heads Dupree Financial Group. “He loved to give. That was a big thing for him.”

“He was one of our most generous donors and supporters,” said David Phemister, The Nature Conservancy’s state director. “But his influence went beyond dollars. He was the personification of kindness, grace and humility. He was the kind of person we should all aspire to be.”

Dupree was a longtime benefactor to the Lexington Philharmonic. But Scott Terrell said that in 2010, his second year as music director, Dupree came to see him and said he wanted “to make a real difference.”

That led to creation of the Dupree Initiative for Innovation, and his donations to the orchestra have total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“He enabled us to do things we hadn’t been able to do,” Terrell said. “Our artistic success is very much tied to Tom Dupree. He was a visionary.”

Thomas Parmelee Dupree was born July 10, 1930, in Louisville. His father was in the coal business, and the family moved to Harlan County when he was a boy.

An Eagle Scout, he was educated at Columbia Military Academy in Tennessee and Yale University. He served as a Naval officer during the Korean War.

After the Navy, Dupree joined his father at Dupree & Co., in Harlan. He and his family moved to Lexington in 1963 to expand the business, which specialized in municipal bond finance. His local bond projects included Rupp Arena, Lexington Center, Commonwealth Stadium and Blue Grass Airport.

His work financing Lexington Center and Rupp Arena in the early 1970s “was the one he was most proud of,” said Tom Dupree Jr. “He talked about that a lot.”

In 1979, Dupree founded Dupree Mutual Funds. But when interest rates skyrocketed, he almost went broke, his son said. By the 1990s, business had bounced back.

Dupree served on many boards and he was chairman of the boards of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and what is now Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

Dupree enjoyed playing piano, painting and building The Close Retreat Center along the Rockcastle River in Pulaski County, where he will be buried. He also funded research for Parkinson’s disease at UK Healthcare.

He was active in the Episcopal Church. He and Clara, his late first wife, helped found Apostles Anglican Church in Lexington.

Dupree’s passion for nature conservation led to creation of the Nature Conservancy’s Dupree Nature Preserve on Polly’s Bend of the Kentucky River in Garrard County. He also made significant contributions to protect Blanton Forest and was a founding member of the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust.

"He loved Kentucky better than any place in the world," his son said. "He just loved hiking in the woods."

Dupree is survived by his second wife, Ann Todd Dupree; a brother, Bryan Dupree; and four children, Thomas P. Dupree Jr. (Elizabeth), Harriet D. Bradley (Guy), Lamar D. Grimes (Allen), all of Lexington, and David G. Dupree (Uma) of Ashland, Oregon; and seven grandchildren.

Visitation will be 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. May 2 at Milward’s Broadway. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. May 3 at Christ Church Cathedral. Memorials may be made to Apostles Anglican Church, The Nature Conservancy/Kentucky or the Lexington Philharmonic.