Honoring Olive White Garvey’s 130th Birth Anniversary
By Melody Spurney
This month, the Riordan Clinic recognizes Olive White Garvey, one of our co-founders. July 15 will be the 130th anniversary of her birth. She was born in 1893 in Arkansas City to Oliver and Caroline Hill White, the youngest of four daughters. Before Oklahoma became a state, the family lived on a ranch in what was then known as the Oklahoma Territory, after which, Caroline encouraged Oliver to move to a larger community for better education opportunities for their daughters. The family settled in Topeka, where Olive finished grade school, attended high school, and enrolled at Washburn University. She earned her degree in 1914 and taught English at Augusta High School until 1916.
It was at Washburn that she met Ray Garvey, whom she would later marry in July 1916. The couple originally settled in Colby, Kansas, where Ray practiced law and worked for a land company, which sparked his interest in real estate. The couple had four children – Ruth, Willard, James, and Olivia. The family later moved to Wichita, where Olive was active on the board of the Garvey Foundation, as well as several social organizations and enjoyed writing.
Olive Garvey’s granddaughter, Ann Garvey, of Wichita, remembered that her grandmother enjoyed raising her family and contributing socially to the communities in which she lived. It wasn’t until Ray Garvey was killed in an automobile accident on June 20, 1959, that Olive Garvey stepped fully into a leadership role in the Garvey Foundation business in her mid-60s.
According to Ann, and the book “Dr. Hugh D. Riordan’s Legacy” by Marilyn Lake Landreth, Olive Garvey traveled to New York after her husband’s death to convince bankers that a substantial loan that they had granted personally to Ray would be repaid, which it was.
Ann said her grandmother used her charm, intellect, and determination to convince the bankers and move forward with the business.
Creating The Center
It would be another 15 years before Olive Garvey, at age 80, would become co-founder of what was originally named the Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning, now known as the Riordan Clinic. She believed in a holistic approach to medicine and the connection between nutrition and good physical and mental health.
According to Landreth’s book, Olive Garvey recruited freelance writer Bill Schul to study what was being done in other locations on the effect of nutrition and the mind. After six months, 12,000 miles, and visits to 13 states and Washington, D.C., Schul presented Olive Garvey with his preliminary findings in late 1973. This presentation made her even more committed to the concept of using nutrition to treat the mind.
Olive Garvey met her future clinic co-founder following a lecture in Wichita where Schul invited Dr. Hugh Riordan, MD, and Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, MD, PhD, and founder of the Brain Bio-Center in New Jersey to meet the executive director of the Garvey Foundation, Clifford Allison. Allison invited Dr. Pfeiffer and Dr. Riordan to meet Olive Garvey. After a brief discussion, Dr. Pfeiffer encouraged her to give Dr. Riordan funds to open a laboratory in Wichita like the one he founded in New Jersey.
While Olive Garvey was very generous, making approximately $100 million worth of donations throughout her life, Ann remembered her grandmother as organized and disciplined. “She didn’t just give things away to people,” she said.
However, Ann added that Olive Garvey “was accepting of the possibility of almost everything until it was disproven.”
Landreth recounts in her book that about a week after their initial meeting, Olive Garvey asked Dr. Riordan to write a grant request to set up his laboratory. With multiple such requests submitted over the years, he did not think he would receive the grant and submitted his hand-written proposal to her, asking for funds for the next three years.
In an interview in 2000, Dr. Riordan said that he told Olive Garvey, “I don’t know what I will do, and you don’t know what I will do, but I will spend the next three years doing it.”
Olive Garvey and Dr. Riordan, who was a psychiatrist by training, shared a vision of using nutrition to improve mental health. He received his grant from the Garvey Foundation, which committed $100,000 each year for three years for a nutrition research laboratory.
In 1975, the Bio-Center Laboratory was established in a building on East Douglas and received its certification from the Centers for Disease Control in 1976. It was that year when The Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning opened in its original location on North Oliver, not far from the Bio-Center Lab.
In 1981, the Garvey Foundation transferred the title to the 92 acres that would become The Center’s new home on North Hillside, and Olive Garvey made a significant financial commitment to its development. Plans and a “SkyBreaking” were held on July 15, 1982, and The Center held a dedication and celebration the following July for the progress on campus construction and a surprise recognition for Olive Garvey’s 90th birthday. By 1984, the eight geodesic domes and a 39-foot pyramid were completed and ready to welcome patients and advance Olive Garvey and Dr. Riordan’s shared vision of nutrition-based healthcare.
Ann said that her grandmother was involved in the campus design, and the uniqueness of the design appealed to her.
Remembering Olive Garvey
Ann recalled various memories of her grandmother on a recent afternoon at her Wichita home. In addition to health and nutrition, she said that her grandmother was passionate about music, theater, reading, and her friends – of which she encouraged Ann to make friends of various ages and backgrounds.
In addition to co-founding the clinic, she was also co-founder of Music Theatre of Wichita and the Institute of Logopedics (now Heartspring) and substantially endowed both Friends University and Washburn University.
She was also a playwright and author who published two books, “Produce or Starve?” and “The Obstacle Race: The Story of Ray Hugh Garvey,” among other writing.
Ann said Olive Garvey was extremely philosophical, and while not necessarily sentimental, “she had an infectious giggle.”
One of Ann’s favorite memories of her grandmother happened when she was about 22 and still in college. She said she was struggling to settle on a post-college direction and called Olive Garvey for advice, to which her grandmother replied, “Follow the path that is closest to your heart.”
It wasn’t as specific as she hoped, but Ann said it was true to Olive Garvey’s nature.
“She was an ‘Everything Enthusiast,’” Ann said.
In Her Own Words
Among the many tributes to Olive Garvey is her presence in the Plaza of Heroines at Wichita State University. On the website honoring the women featured in the plaza is this excerpt from Olive Garvey’s books.
“Looking back, I feel that I have been the most fortunate of women and that I have lived through a golden age … The greatest satisfaction which life has given me is my family. My second satisfaction is that our business experience has been in the field of public service, producing food, shelter, and energy for those who deserve it, providing employment and opportunity to hundreds of people. My third pleasure is that I have been granted the handling of sufficient means to have been able to help many, many worthy causes.”
Olive White Garvey passed away on May 5, 1993, in Wichita.