Today was the funeral for my friend and mentor for the last eight years. I’ll be honest…I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready when I got the email last week that he passed away. I wasn’t ready to go to work and see his office empty. And I wasn’t ready to attend his funeral.
It was a beautiful service with several poignant things said about Gale, but it didn’t feel right to have us all together without him. His son said he would hate all the attention, which is so true. It makes me wonder whether God made him sit and listen to all the love spoken and felt for him today. I hope so.
I imagine God with an arm around Gale whispering “Look what we’ve done together.” Because Gale was truly a gift from God for so many people. Gale was a gift from God for the world.
Because of his leadership in global research, people in remote villages across the globe now have a voice. Gale brought so many wonderful people together to do this work and he saw each of us as worthy and valuable. That will always be my greatest professional honor – working alongside him, learning from him, sometimes debating him. And he loved it. We loved it.
He brought out the best in people by listening, teaching, and loving unconditionally. To take from the beautiful eulogy from today…Gale had a goodness about him that was evident immediately when you met him.
I remember when I interviewed for the job with him. I sat across from Gale in the atrium of the Omaha office and by the end of the conversation I was babbling about my family and life growing up. I had to remind myself I was in a job interview. Needless to say, taking the job was a very easy decision even though it meant moving to Omaha, Nebraska.
I didn’t know much about survey research back then and now it’s my full-time job. Gale did that for me. He taught me everything I know about it. He gave me a career.
During my first weeks at Gallup, I remember sitting in meetings whispering thoughts and ideas to him. Finally he leaned over and whispered back, “Why don’t you tell the whole room?”
Hundreds of times in the last eight years, he’d come into my office with an idea and we’d mull over it together. Gale did that. He came to you. He loved to walk into your office, sit down and talk. He loved talking about research.
We wrote so many survey questions together. I loved the moments when his eyes would light up because of something I said. “That’s it. Right there,” he’d say. He loved to interview people with potential questions. He loved to find out why people gave the answers they did. I love that too.
I think Gale just loved people so much and found them so darn fascinating that he committed his life to learning as much as he could about them. And that’s the greatest gift Gale gave me – he taught me how to see people, how to listen to people well. It starts with asking the right questions. Actually, Gale would say it starts with asking the right question. He’d hold up his finger and say, “One. It just takes one really great question and that’s all you need.” I’ll always carry that wisdom with me.
Recently a group of college students came to our office to share their research. After one presentation I commented, “If Gale were here, he’d say…” I didn’t know it, but Gale was listening in from the hospital. He emailed me immediately after my comment and said, “Thank you for speaking up for me! I’m listening!”
Gale left a lot of wisdom in the minds of the many people he taught, mentored, and loved. I have a feeling we’ll be speaking up for him for a very, very long time. And I also have a feeling he’ll be listening sometimes. When he’s not busy interviewing people in heaven.
We have to go on now. The people who love him. We don’t want to. We’re not ready to. We want to still get emails from him, hear his voice on the conference calls, or walk into his office in Omaha and see him mulling over pages and pages of data, taking hand-written notes, and finding hidden gems of knowledge that can change the world. That’s just what Gale did. He changed the world. Now it’s our turn to carry on that work – ready or not.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa
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