Bob’s Blog Special: Remembering Gwen Walden

Our former TCE colleague Gwen Walden passed away this past week after living with cancer.  In recent years, Gwen served quite admirably with the Arabella Group of philanthropy advisors.

I suppose I could look it up, but I don’t recall with any degree of specificity what Gwen’s title or position was at TCE – but I do recall what she meant to us organizationally, and to me personally.  In short, she was a master strategist at the intersection of philanthropy and social change.

Gwen was among the most brilliant minds I’ve ever encountered in our field, perhaps the clearest and cleanest writer-thinker of anyone who worked at TCE.  She was a keen observer of policy, politics, organizational culture, and organizational dynamics – with “the community” and social justice as the only meaningful outcome.  The combination of her intellectual and analytical heft – accompanied by an even-keeled, controlled demeanor – disguised a burning passion for social justice.  She appeared calm and unruffled on the surface, but her fires burned within.

I certainly benefitted from this combination of Gwen’s brilliance and passion during my leadership tenure at TCE.  Over the years, I have been credited with The California Endowment’s move in 2006 from a corporate, well-heeled office tower in Woodland Hills to our current location in downtown Los Angeles, with the creation of our Center for Healthy Communities conferencing facility.  If truth be told, this was the brainchild of Gwen Walden; she took me by the hand and thoughtfully nurtured the idea, which evolved from some conversational out-loud thinking into a vision and a plan for implementation and execution.  It was Gwen who organized walking visits downtown for me to stir the imagination of what a downtown move could look and feel like for TCE and our grantee partners.  It was Gwen (with a supportive assist from TCE colleague Julie Tugend) who suggested we survey local nonprofit leaders and ask for their views on how TCE might make optimal use of the space we would occupy in a downtown facility.  Gwen assembled their input, and a few months later, the vision of a “Center for Healthy Communities” was presented to and approved by our Board of Directors.

For Gwen, more than just a working place for TCE staff, it was critically important that we be in a relationship with LA – and send a message of civic love for the community.  The programming and architectural plans that followed flowed from this framework of relationship, community, and civic love.

It would be no surprise that Gwen Walden served as the first-ever Director of TCE’s Center for Health Communities beginning in Spring 2005.  It was her foundational work that has led the CHC to be the busy public meeting space it is today.

Rest peacefully, Gwen Walden.  You served our community — and the field of philanthropy — very well.  Peace and blessings to Gwen’s partner Carol, and the family.

Bob Ross


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