I’ve never met Galen or his wife Helene, but I’ve seen them at a distance at plenty of USC sporting events.
According to his L.A. Times obituary, Galen was a native Los Angelino, graduating from Fairfax High School before serving in Europe during World War II. He attended the USC School of Law on the GI Bill before starting Lynwood Savings & Loan, ultimately achieving great success in the savings and loan industry. Besides USC, his philanthropy encompassed museums, theaters, children’s centers and the Anti-Defamation League.
But I remember Galen for something so small and so relatively insignificant when compared with his other works, that I feel a bit ashamed. Upon entering the Galen Center, an enormous portrait of Galen and his wife greets visitors.
I would charitably describe Galen’s visage and overall appearance in this obviously expensive portrait to be vampiric, creepy or at least vaguely unsettling. Imagine this nightmare – all of your life’s efforts boiling down to one silly portrait that greets fresh, young collegiate faces who will likely never know you for anything other than your beady eyes staring down upon them as they struggle drunkenly to their seats in the student section. The saying holds that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know nothing of the brush being mightier than 82 years.
Which is why I convinced myself, in the purest tradition of Oscar Wilde, that I had uncovered a modern, philanthropic Dorian Gray, whose painting would scar and creep with the ravages of age and sin while the body (or in this case, the spirit, as I make no claim that a righteous person must be a handsome person) remains forever unvarnished.
It is always difficult to assess someone’s worth from afar, but through this portrait and my understanding of his substantial giving, I wondered if it was indeed possible to divide my perceptions of the man between his body and benefactory spirit. Galen, however he may rest in the minds of those who knew him, was for the briefest of moments my example of the rightful division of The Man and His Acts.
I bet that Galen wasn’t anywhere near as vampiric in life as he was in the portrait, just as I am sure that he wasn’t the completely selfless deity that appeared in philanthropy articles in the Times.
So forgive me if I thought Galen’s portrait would continue to age as the financier continued to donate his money throughout southern California. I thank him though I did not know him, and I trust that those who did cross his path will speak far more eloquently about him than I ever could. He remains for me the man whose painted gaze I would always avoid while walking on the polished stone floor he helped