NEWS4 November 2021

Obituary: Gordon Heald

News People UK

Gordon Heald, who ran Gallup Poll in the UK between 1979 and 1994, has died. He was 80.

Gordon Heald

Gordon Heald was a leading social and political researcher who ran Gallup Poll in the UK from 1979-1994 and ORB International from 1994-2009. During these times he inspired countless young researchers across the globe to seek public opinion on the most important issues of the day, often in some of the most challenging circumstances.

Born in 1941, his father was a waiter on the liners between Southampton and New York while his mother ran a two-bedroom B&B next to the coach station in Bournemouth. Dad studied hard at the local catholic school and made it to Cambridge (Christ’s), where, among others, he would meet and plot with Sir Martin Sorrell.

With a mother from Co. Roscommon, religion and faith were part of Dad’s DNA. He ran numerous studies exploring changing religious attitudes, had an audience with Pope John Paul II on work he had carried out for the Vatican and was instrumental in the expansion of what is known today as the World Values Study.  

A young Jesuit priest from Washington DC had been introduced to Dad while he was running Gallup in London. He’d noticed fewer people attending church and acknowledged that ‘values’ were in decline but he didn’t know how to quantify it globally.This conversation, among others, was instrumental in the design of an survey which still runs today. He’d lecture on the findings and kept many of the original data at home. 

Politics was also a great love. In the 1980s there were really two heavyweight polling companies – Mori and Gallup. Let’s just say Dad and Bob [Worcester] had a healthy rivalry. One would work for the Times, the other the Telegraph. One would work with Labour, the other the Tories. Both would drop names like crazy in conversations. Dad had worked with Thatcher’s team in the early eighties (and was in the Grand Hotel in Brighton at Lord Archer’s party the evening the IRA detonated a bomb… luckily Mum had insisted they get home to make sure we weren’t up to mischief as it was school the next day).  

He worked a lot on John Major’s Back to Basics campaign, and at the same time my mum was Edwina Currie’s personal assistant….and we know how that worked out. Beyond the UK, he’d worked with eight heads of state and famously met US president Ronald Reagan in 1988 while briefing a project on “perceptions of US foreign policy” carried out for the United States Information Agency (now US State Department/Office of Opinion Research). 

In 1991, he led a team with long term friend Andy Kohut (who went on to establish the highly respected Pew Research) and Madeleine Albright (who went on to be US secretary of state) across Eastern Europe, exploring attitudes towards democracy.  Many of those he worked with, including Kancho Stoychev (Bulgaria), Merab Pachulia (Georgia) and Rasa Ališauskienė (Lithuania) were inspired to start their own agencies which are now the largest in their respective countries.

In 1993, together with a young (haired) Steve Hilton, he crossed Russia designing a research-led campaign for a subsequent referendum which Boris Yeltsin won. 

Gallup was also a very significant part of his life. He had met Dr George Gallup Snr and been inspired by his teachings and vision. He subsequently became very close with George’s children, Alec and George Jnr. It was the growth of Gallup International which gave him this immense network of like-minded pollsters who shared many of the same issues. He’d come home from trips talking passionately about conversations with Dr Gilani in Islamabad, Marita Carballo from Argentina, Gary Morgan in Australia, Helene Riffault in France, etc.

He served on the board of Gallup International and expanded the network across Eastern and Central Europe once the wall had fallen. Between 1990 and 1994, many of these institutions worked with him to launch the European Commission’s inaugural Central & Eastern Eurobarometer.

But among ground-breaking research, what many who knew him well will remember was his sense of adventure and strong desire to enjoy it along the way. Although he held three degrees he was a joker until the end. 

Dad introduced two of his three sons into the industry and is survived by his loving wife Christine who cared for him until the end. He died peacefully at home with Mum next to him and the love of his eight grandchildren nearby.

1 Comment

3 years ago | 1 like

I had the pleasure of working with Gordon for nearly three decades on many international projects. I can confirm that he was a jokester to the end. One time he and I entered the Savoy bar carrying a "Stop the War" sign that we'd picked up off the street after one of the many London demonstrations against the US-led war on Iraq. Right sign, wrong place, wrong time! Gordon had an uncanny visionary knack for see where public opinion research could contribute to greater understanding and advancing knowledge. He was cherished by my family, even when not always understood. My children, when answering a phone call from him to my house in Virginia (time zones had no meaning for Gordon) would yell to me, "Dad, its that guy from England we can't understand!" Cathy and I extend our love and sympathies to Christine, Johnny and the rest of the family. May love and peace be with you.

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