By Kathy Day
John Todd Figi of La Jolla, passed away on Jan. 9 at the UCSD Medical Center as he awaited a lung transplant. He was 66. Subsequently, Figi himself became an organ donor.
He had served as chairman of the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and was respected for his collection of Latin American art and for his success as a businessman.
Friends said his brother, Hans of Guilford, England, captured the arts patron’s persona in the obituary he wrote: “For all his success and notoriety, he was ultimately respected for being a “regular guy” who could just as happily share a beer with the gardener as be the host of a black-tie party in a foreign capital. When he spoke to you he made you feel like you were the most important person in the world.”
Featured in the Light’s 10 Questions column in 2008, Figi wrote that he was inspired by “creativity, hard work and those who practice both.”
In answer to the question, “What is your greatest accomplishment,” he said, “Since I have never had children, my greatest accomplishment, I believe, was starting as a hippie with an idea and building it into one of the largest, most creative and respected gift companies in the country.”
That company, Figi Graphics had its roots in Wisconsin, where he was born and raised. He started a business called The Butcher, The Baker, making candles and following in his parents’ footsteps as entrepreneurs. They had started Figi’s Gifts in Good Taste in the kitchen of their one-bedroom apartment. Their pioneering company ultimately became a leader in the mail-order gift-food business.
He merged it with another company in 1973. After a business trip to Southern California in February 1974, winter coat and hat in hand, Figi relocated his company to J Street in San Diego within three weeks. The company sold everything from photo frames and wall décor to refrigerator magnet to gift stores across the U.S. and around the world. He sold the company in 1998.
In addition to his involvement with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Figi served as president of the San Diego Chapter of YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) and was active in many local and national charities, usually anonymously. Among them were the Old Globe Theater and the Monarch School.
He also served as chairman of the California Gift Association and received the Award of Distinction from Gift for Life for his support of AIDS education and research.
Kit Sickels, who knew Figi from traveling the world together and from business dealings, said when his friend “set his mind to something, he always accomplished it.”
Figi, he added, was an extremely honorable man and a very successful businessman.
Sickels said as his friends and former employees kept watch over him via the website
as Figi’s health declined the past few weeks, it was apparent by their comments how much of an impact he had on them.