John W. Gardner

By: Mick Yates

John William Gardner was born in Los Angeles, California, on October 8, 1912. He graduated from Stanford in 1935 with a degree in psychology, and later received a PhD from the University of California.

During World War II, he joined the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA). Gardner's public career began with the Carnegie Corporation, and in 1955 he became the foundation's president. He wrote his best-known book in 1961 ("Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too?").

Three years later he published "Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society" which lays out his views on the "common good" without sacrificing human individuality. In 1965 Gardner became President Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, remaining in that position until early 1968. He consolidated its social agencies and successfully led and administered the "Great Society" programs.

After leaving Government, in 1970 he launched Common Cause, which concerned itself with a wide range of issues including the Vietnam War, social welfare, and environmentalism. By the mid 1970s Common Cause had become identified with governmental reform. He stepped down from the organization in 1977.

In 1990 Gardner published "On Leadership", which this writer considers one of the best books ever written on leadership.

He had stated that everyone should have three careers, and in late 1979 he formed Independent Sector, aimed at insuring "the survival of the non-profit sector". In 1985, Independent Sector created the John W. Gardner Leadership Award, recognizing outstanding leaders in nonprofit and philanthropic work. Twenty eight individuals have received the award to date.

And in the mid 1990s Gardner served as a Professor of public service at the Stanford Business School. Gardner was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and prestigious awards as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He died in February 2002.

To quote Sara E. Meléndez, President and CEO, Independent Sector "In the passing of John Gardner, our country has lost one of its greatest builders of ideas and institutions and a unifier of people and causes. He was a leader in many circles, from government and politics to civil rights, education, and philanthropy. As a Republican in a Democratic administration, John was a believer in the responsibility of government to create social change".