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November 30, 2011

Column #1,579

George Gallup, Jr. – A Hero of Mine

By Mike McManus

            Everyone knows the name George Gallup, but few actually knew the man himself.

            One of the great privileges of my life is that he has been a personal hero of mine for four decades.   George Gallup Jr., who died last week at age 81, was the son of the founder of polling.  However, he was first a missionary on an Indian reservation and seriously considered becoming an Episcopal priest before joining the family business.

            He was the most deeply committed Christian I have ever known, and lived his faith in an inspirational way.

In 1972-3 I ran a project that involved producing five TV programs which were broadcast on New York area TV stations which framed public policy choices for debate on such issues as transportation, housing and poverty.  It also involved articles on the same choices in daily newspapers, and “ballots” for citizen response.

I called the Gallup Poll to see if it would be interested in conducting scientific polls before and after these “Television Town Meetings” to measure any changes in public opinion. To my amazement, George Gallup Jr. responded personally.  He could not have been more gracious or encouraging.   His polling did report a significant shift of opinion, which helped persuade government to adopt some reforms which had garnered public support.

Two characteristics of George were quite striking.  First, he was warm and always available.  Secondly, he revered his father.  He insisted on calling himself George Gallup, Jr., even decades after his father’s death.  He was not simply modest, but genuinely humble.

A few years later, I invited him and his beloved wife, Kinny, to come to our home at that time in Stamford, Conn., to speak in our church at a “Faith Renewal Weekend.” While he was speaking, he told a story which prompted Kinny to stand up in the congregation, in the middle of his talk and correct him, gently, saying, “George, it didn’t happen that way!”  She retold the story with humor and warmth.  He was grinning from ear to ear, delighted with her charm. 

After I started this column in 1981, I mailed it to him each week.  Some years later he stunned me by saying, “I have saved all of your columns, and I read them to my children,” who were then adults!  He made me glow and feel good all over.  Even now, I am amazed that the famous George Gallup, who conducted polls on hundreds of issues and written a score of books, was so kind to a younger friend.

In 1993 I wrote my first book, “Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Avoid Divorce.”   I was struck by a paradox.  According to George’s Gallup Polls, America is the most religious modern nation, with high percentages who are church members and attendees. Yet we also had the highest divorce rate in the world.

On the other hand, some churches had pioneered answers to help couples at different

stages of marriage to be successful.  My book was about those reforms, and how they might be combined in what I called a Community Marriage Policy.   I had persuaded the clergy of a dozen cities to take this step, and it was reducing divorce rates.

However, the reforms and my work were unknown. Therefore, I asked George if he would write the book’s Foreword, which would help me sell it.  That was a huge imposition, requiring his reading of 300+ pages and then finding the time to write it. It is difficult to think of any people as famous over so many decades as George Gallup, yet he readily agreed to do so.

 George wrote these opening eloquent words for the Foreword:

“If a disease were to afflict the majority of a populace, spreading pain and dysfunction throughout all age groups, we would be frantically searching for reasons and solutions.  Yet this particular scourge has become so endemic that it is virtually ignored.

“The scourge is divorce, an oddly neglected topic in a nation that has the worst record  of broken marriages in the entire world.”

 After creating a small non-profit, Marriage Savers, to work full-time in this ministry, I asked George to speak at a fund-raising dinner. He readily agreed, demonstrating again that he had a servant’s heart.

He also inspired George Barna to create a religious polling firm that competed at times with Gallup.  Yet Gallup was not threatened, but encouraging.. “I was overwhelmed by his kindness,” Barna recalls.   

Barna concludes, as do I, that George Gallup “did possess the heart of Christ that made him a treasure in the kingdom and a joy to those who knew him.” 

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