Most adults in this country know the name Gallup. Not everyone had the good fortune to know the people behind the name.
I first became acquainted with George Gallup Jr. while I was in
graduate school in New Jersey, back in the dark ages. I heard him speak
at a small event in Princeton where he talked about some dynamics of
religion in America. I had invited the pastor of my church to attend
with me. I was a brand new Christian at the time so Pastor Dan and I had
an interesting discussion afterwards concerning the eminent pollster's
thoughts about faith and lifestyle. It was actually my first exposure to
any public opinion researcher discussing statistics related to people's
beliefs and religious practices.
I don't know how much of an influence that experience had on my
eventual career path, but it was the first of many times our paths would
cross. The next occasion was about three years later when I was leading
the research and marketing divisions of a media development agency in
Chicago. The owner of the firm had previously hired the Gallup
Organization to conduct a large research project during which he became
acquainted with George. My boss offered to introduce us, hoping that
George might help me fill in some data gaps in my first book.
Soon thereafter I returned to Princeton to meet with George and was
overwhelmed by his kindness. He could not have been more welcoming and
helpful. He offered me office space to work in, free access to all of
the non-proprietary Gallup data, and spent time sharing his personal
reflections on the topic. Because the subject matter – faith trends and
cultural impact – was dear to his heart as well, his reflections were
well-conceived and interesting. He even brought me in to meet his
father, the man who essentially launched the public opinion research
industry, and I listened in awe as the elder Gallup added his insights
on that topic and several others.
Having recently emerged from the über competitive academic world, the
graciousness and collegiality of the Gallup family (I also met George's
brother Alec and George Jr.'s daughter, Alison, both of whom worked in
the family business) made a lasting impression. George Jr. did not seem
at all threatened by the aggressive youngster who shared the established
researcher's twin passions for research and faith. Of course, George's
family was in the research pantheon, and I was just a green kid still
learning the trade. Yet his easy, encouraging demeanor caused me to
reconceive how a true research professional – especially one for whom
Christ is the center of existence – serves and responds to others.
Throughout the next 25 years George and I had various occasions to
spend time together, often on my trips back to Princeton, where his
company was headquartered for many years. George was a man of good
humor, curious nature, and warm hospitality. I found him to be
consistently gentle, kind, playful, and seeking ways to be supportive.
Although our discussions invariably identified a few differences in how
we measured or interpreted the beliefs and behaviors of Americans, he
was always respectful in his comments. To his credit, he was also
willing to consider the viability of divergent approaches to measuring
things that matter.
Several times my publishers asked me to get George to write
endorsements for books I'd written. I don't believe cover blurbs have
much marketing value but many publishers place a great deal of stock in
them. I also try to avoid asking people to do favors for me. But on a
couple of occasions I mustered the determination to ask George if he'd
review the manuscript and perhaps offer a blurb if he felt so inclined.
Invariably, consistent with his polite and giving nature, he
enthusiastically agreed to read the material and send a paragraph in
support of those books.
One of the common experiences in my life was also a source of
embarrassment to me because of how it reflected on George. Often, when I
would be introduced to speak at a conference or to someone in a private
conversation, I would be introduced as "the evangelical George Gallup."
I always felt that was an insult to George, whose love for Jesus and
commitment to the faith was beyond question. Many people don't know that
he went to seminary before leaving to take a job in the family
business. Sometimes I'd object to the phrase and attempt to defend
George's spiritual depth and commitment, only to find people's eyes
glaze pretty quickly. To them it was just a quick way of defining my
place on the spectrum; to me, it was an unfair minimizing of a brother's
deep convictions. Sadly, such superficialities become the norm
all-too-often in a sound bite/video clip society.
During the past five or six years I had hoped that we could
collaborate on a book about our views regarding the future of the Church
and this nation. While he was agreeable to the idea, the timing never
worked because he was still immersed in completing a biography about his
father as well as a testimonial book regarding his beloved late wife,
Kinny. I always used to chuckle after our conversations because when I
first sat in George's office in the early 1980s he was writing that book
about his dad. There he was, 30 years later, still rifling through
volumes of support documents and crafting his loving homage to his dad.
Hopefully his family will enable whatever George completed to see the
light of day; it no doubt contains heartfelt insights into George Sr.,
as well as new revelations regarding the early days of the public
opinion profession (which his dad was instrumental in launching).
In many ways, George Gallup Jr. was a highly significant mentor to
me. While the 3,000-mile gulf between us prevented frequent face-to-face
exchanges, those meetings were supplemented by letters and occasional
telephone conversations. He is one of a small group of individuals from
whom I learned lessons that I never encountered in the classroom. Among
the lessons he taught was the appropriate demeanor of a research
professional whose Christian faith was front and center in both the way
he interacted with people as well as the quality of the work he
produced. And his advice on handling criticism and misattributions –
problems with which he was well-acquainted – was invaluable.
George passed away on November 21, 2011 after a bout with liver
cancer. He was 81 years old. I will miss George. He was one of the good
guys. He was not a self-promoter and he certainly did not possess the
killer instinct or drive for supremacy that would have made him
countless millions in our dog-eat-dog industry. But he did possess the
heart of Christ that made him a treasure in the kingdom and a joy to
those who knew him.