Remembering George Gallup
The Most Unforgettable
Person I Ever Knew
by the Very Rev. Dr. Peter Moore
Decades ago Reader’s Digest used to have a regular feature column entitled The Most Unforgettable Character I ever Met. I loved those articles, and have often thought of who I’d write about if and when the time came.
Well it’s come. We all know his name because it’s mentioned almost nightly on the news and daily in the papers especially during this election year: Gallup.
George H. Gallup III was the son of the famed founder of the Gallup Poll—an institution that paved the way for many other similar polls and that changed the political landscape by deciding that it was possible to find out what ordinary men and women thought about issues that were of wide importance. It was not just the newscasters, pundits, and so-called “experts” who had opinions. Everyone did, and what they thought was significant.
George (Jr.) was born in 1930 into this illustrious family that had settled in a vast acreage of rolling hills just west of Princeton. It was there that he was destined to attend university (after a requisite stint at Deerfield Academy).
During his college years he thought deeply about entering the ordained Episcopal ministry, but chose instead to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the inner sanctum of the Gallup Organization. There he labored until in 1977 when others stepped in to run the family business. While continuing to have a relationship with the parent organization, he started the Princeton Religion Research organization that explored not just the usual religious statistics, but plumbed into the depths of what people actually felt about their faith and how it translated into their lives. It served as a model for other such research organizations like the one George Barna founded with Gallup’s encouragement.
This period of his and his wife Kinny’s lives coincided with a remarkable spiritual transformation that led this dynamic duo into wholly new and uncharted territory. Through rediscovering the Gospel, especially within the context of small groups that met for Bible study and prayer, they recommitted their lives to Christ and began a whirlwind life of speaking, writing, sharing, and serving on countless boards that were dedicated to the furtherance of the Gospel.
Since I had known Kinny as a teenager, our paths soon collided, and George came on the Board of Trustees of Trinity School for Ministry. There we served together for years; I was often in their home and they were often in Sandra’s and mine.
Kinny died four years ago after battling cancer, and I was given the huge privilege of giving the homily at her memorial service to an almost overflow crowd in the Princeton University chapel. Many Trinity friends were there. Their marriage had been one of those “made in heaven” ones that touched thousands, especially since it was not only deeply grounded in Christ but also filled with adventure, humor (often self-deprecating), wisdom, caring, and great love.
After Kinny’s death, George kept on writing, speaking, staying in touch with their three adult children, and welcoming weary travelers. When the diagnosis “cancer of the liver” was given to him about a year ago, he accepted it with equanimity and continued to write the as yet unpublished biography of his famous father. When I visited him last July, he showed the same hopeful optimism that characterized his approach to the loss of his beloved Kinny.
At his memorial service this past January 14, I was again privileged to preach. But my words were complemented by six testimonials that revealed the amazing character, deep faith, spontaneous humor, wide friendships, and great love of this gentle giant (he was 6 feet 3 inches tall). Once again the Princeton chapel was inundated with friends and colleagues from the past. In my homily I quoted something he wrote just two years ago: “Jesus Christ is in all our tomorrows.”
Of George Gallup, Bp. Fitz Allison wrote: “George represents one of God’s joyous saints. A blend of child-like joy and uncompromising discipline marks both his profession and his service to God.”
Many of us will miss George Gallup. He will always be to me one of the most unforgettable characters I ever knew—and loved.
George Gallup served on Trinity’s Board of Trustees from 1988 to 2004. He chaired the Such Faith Capital Campaign that over a three-year period raised over $14 million for scholarships, buildings, and software updates.