01 December 2011

More Than A Pollster

"You first have to learn to be good. Then learn to be fast."

--George Gallup, Jr.

The first time I met George Gallup Jr., who passed away on November 21, 2011, at the age of 81, was in February of 1983.  I operated a research business at the time and wanted to know if there was any chance of learning from or even working with the Gallup Organization. 

It sounds like a stretch but this is how we came to know some of the mentors in our life--by reaching out to people we admire.  A lesson learned early in life is to let the other person say, "no."

After several attempts to get through by phone, Marie Swirsky, George's executive assistant, suggested an alternative.  Marie asked us to put our introduction on a cassette (no CDs in the early 80s), and the purpose for meeting with George, and she would put the tape in his briefcase so he could listen to it over a weekend.

The tape arrived at the Gallup offices in Princeton, New Jersey on a Friday.  The following Monday I received a call from Marie to set up a meeting in Princeton at my convenience.

It was the beginning of a 21-year professional relationship with George and a friendship that extended until last week.

Of all the trips to Princeton in the ensuing years, the most memorable was the time George took me to meet his mother, Ophelia. It was a warm gesture that became quite an afternoon.  As it turns out Mrs. Gallup played the piano, George played the trumpet and I play the drums.  All three instruments were in her house, so George suggested we have a "jam" session.  

Which we did.

How special that time proved to be.

Most of what I learned from George is what I saw in his life.  His curiosity.  The intellect.  Keen insights.  Ethics.  Compassion for others.  A willingness to share what he knew, not keeping it to himself.  Making time to invest in someone like myself.

Conversations in his office, over lunch, and in our home are memorable. 

Some things worth noting about a man who was more than a pollster:
  • He paid attention when you were talking.  The first thing George did was get out his notepad and start writing things down for future reference.  George focused on the points you were trying to make.  In an age of permanent distractions and inattention in meetings, his disciplined approach to interpersonal communication was instructive.   
  • He chose words carefully.  George's counsel was inside the conversation requiring one to be a good listener.  Like the time he was visiting and getting ready to go to the airport.  He said, "You first have to learn to be good.  Then learn to be fast."  The order was right because George was speaking from experience.  Nearly 25 years later I don't remember the context in which this wisdom was passed along but I recall those specific words as though they were spoken this morning.
  • He knew the relationship between information and ideas.  It wasn't just a matter of conducting surveys.  Adding to data bases doesn't accomplish much.  The real issue was knowing how to act on the findings.  As good as the knowledge might be it's secondary in value to taking the right action, whether personal or corporate.  
  • He was a person of great faith.  The choices were being an Episcopal priest, which he considered at one time, or a pollster. However, the greater calling was living a life of faith.  One of George's favorite questions in religious surveys was, "How have you put your faith into action in the past seven days?"
I am grateful for the privilege of knowing George Gallup, Jr.--and I am thankful to Marie Swirsky for putting that cassette tape in his briefcase many years ago.


(C) Bredholt & Co.