Olive W. Garvey

Riordan Clinic Founder

The sixties and early seventies were a time for questioning the established ways of doing things. Not just questioning, but energy seemed to be there to bring about changes. This was generally started by the young people but before we moved on to the eighties, change was brought about by a diverse population including one senior citizen. She was disturbed about the state of medical care in the United States and was questioning what could be done about it. On this day she was to be lead in a direction that would take her on a journey that would change the concept of health care. This senior citizen was Olive White Garvey, a deceptive grandmotherly looking woman. Although Olive was a grandmother she was also an astute businesswoman and the leader of the Garvey family.


Olive said that she felt she had the most fortunate of childhoods. Her mother was 36 years of age, and her father 41. Their periods of adjustments were behind them, and while not wealthy, they were in a well-settled economic position. They both worked hard with little or no outside help and felt their hard work was a trade-off for their independence. Olive enjoyed her family and their time in Indian Territory Oklahoma. When their lease time was almost completed, Carrie (Caroline) pushed her husband to move to a large college town since they had four daughters to educate. After looking over the available towns, the Whites decided on Topeka, the capital city of Kansas. Olive finished grade school and attended high school there before enrolling in Washburn College. She found that she could go to Washburn after three years of high school without having to graduate, so she enrolled in Washburn. One of her classmates in grade school and again later in college was Karl Menninger who went on to found Menninger Clinic. Knowing Karl also played a part in the route that led to The Center.

Another student with whom Olive became acquainted was Ray Garvey. Ray was a young man whose ambition and energy would take him far. He was the son of a school teacher-dreamer father and a mother who taught him the value of hard work to make those dreams come true. Ray’s parents had started their married life in a dugout on his parent’s farm in Phillips County, Kansas. They eventually acquired a quarter section in that county which they farmed. Seth Garvey’s position as a teacher supplemented their living from the farm. Ray graduated from Phillipsburg High School at age 16. Since he was determined to go to college, he taught school for a year to get the money to go on for further education. Ray and a friend had started out on a train to go to Emporia College, but en route they had a layover at Topeka and Ray decided if he could get a job in Topeka he would go to college there since it was the capital of Kansas. He did get a job as a dishwasher (he did not keep it long as he went on to better things) and he enrolled at Washburn. During his years at Washburn Ray had a variety of jobs to earn his living. One job, a paper route, was to furnish the seed money for his eventual success. Olive and Ray met at a social function for freshmen but did not become an “item” until later. They announced their engagement during their junior year in January 1913. Olive graduated from college in 1914 and Ray returned to Washburn for his final year in law school and Olive moved to Augusta, Kansas, to teach school.

Ray received his law degree in 1915, passed the Kansas bar exams, and established a law office in Colby, Kansas, in the same building as the Kendall Land Company. He did legal work for the land company and invested the $500 from the sale of his paper route in the equity of a farm. A few months later he was given the job as City Clerk, which paid $75.00, a month, thus, wedding plans could be made. They married in July 1916.

Partners for Life

Their married life was a busy, productive and satisfying time. They became the parents of Ruth, Willard, James, and Olivia. Ray found that he liked the challenge of business and quickly gave up law to turn to real estate. Olive became active in the social life of a small town as well as rearing their children. Ray was gone so much on business that one time he laughingly pointed out a picture of Olive and his children as “my widow and orphans”.

While Ray did not involve Olive in the day-to-day operation of his businesses, she was privy to one-sided telephone conversations, and Ray also wanted Olive to have an understanding of business. Early in their married life he gave her his equity in a section of his best wheat land. It was her responsibility to handle the mortgage, taxes, and income, including making out her own income tax return. He also did the same thing for his children when they became old enough. When Ray’s businesses became successful and required a board of directors, Olive was always vice-president and attended all business meetings.

After living in Colby for several years, Olive followed her mother’s example and pushed Ray to move their family to a larger town. She felt their children would have more opportunities in a larger town. So the Garveys moved to Wichita. As time went by the children left home to attend college, married, and had children of their own. Olive was on several boards, was active in social affairs, and enjoyed writing. Ray’s businesses had become more and more successful, and in 1959 he was considered by many as the richest man in Kansas.

On June 30, 1959, Ray Garvey kissed his wife goodbye, went out to the garage, came back inside and kissed her goodbye again, and walked out the door. That was the last time Olive saw Ray. He was killed in an automobile accident near McPherson, Kansas, and Olive’s life would never be the same again. She later said that she felt her life was divided into three sections. The first section was her childhood and school years. The next section was her married life, which was happy and fulfilling. Now she was almost 66 years old and entering a final section of life without Ray and as a businesswoman.

After 30 odd years of listening to one-sided telephone conversations, Olive, along with her children, had to take over running the Garvey empire, an empire that could be in trouble since their leader suddenly was not there. Ray had always listened to all the arguments, made the decisions, and it was final. Now Olive was the one to have the last word. Her children started calling her “Mammy” after the comic strip character Mammy Yokum. After making a final decision Olive would declare, “I has spoken!” Olive, her daughter and son-in-law, Ruth and Bernard Fink, visited some eastern bankers to assure them that the $50 million loan that Ray had acquired would be repaid. Her strength and determination charmed the bankers into continuing the loans which were eventually repaid.

One of the best decisions that she considered she had made was in bringing Robert Page on board. Bob was one of two people to become both a CPA and lawyer in Kansas. Under her leadership and his business savvy the Garvey empire not only survived but continued to prosper. Bob was meticulous in his planning and in the execution of their plans. He had been employed on the Ray Garvey account for Elmer Fox Company for many years. Bob was the youngest of 18 children and had been orphaned at a young age. He was only 35 when Olive asked him to join the Garvey empire. Bob had a great deal of respect for this mother who was trying to keep her family from falling apart and becoming estranged as so many wealth families were apt to do when their leader dies. In many ways he looked upon Olive as the mother he never knew and the Garvey clan as rambunctious siblings. He would not allow anyone to take advantage of Olive. Bob also was to become a major player in the history of The Center.

From a Tiny Spark

On one particular day in the early 1970s, Olive was sitting under a hair dryer reading a review about a new book, Nutrition and Your Mind, by George Watson. The review stated that nutrition, or the food you eat, has an effect on your mind. This struck a chord in Olive. She did not believe that wallowing in your childhood and reliving traumas in your life would lead to a healthy mind. She differed with her former classmate, Karl Menninger, who became famous for starting the Menninger Clinic in Topeka. She couldn’t wait to read this book and immediately ordered it.

After reading the book, she began to formulate an idea that would eventually lead to The Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning. She had Clifford Allison, executive director of the Garvey Foundation, get in touch with Bill Schul, a freelance writer who had ties to Menninger Clinic, to study what was being done on the effect of nutrition on the mind. Although Bill thought the book was interesting, he did not think he was qualified to make that kind of study. Allison assured him that he was the correct person for the job since he would not be defending any discipline or philosophy, he would not be bringing any bias to the effort. Bill devoted more than six months to this research effort.(32) Except for one flight to the west coast the rest of the 12,000 miles covered during the course of this study were by car and commercial bus. Bill visited Centers in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arizona, and California. After reading many books and research articles and interviewing leaders in the field of nutrition, with the help of the International Academy of Metabology, Inc., Bill was ready to give his preliminary findings. In November 1973 Bill presented Olive with the results of his research in a printed report, Preliminary Study: the effects of nutrition on the mind and related subjects. Bill authored a book, Frontiers of Medicine, from that research. He also recommended to Mrs. Garvey that he do some additional research into holistic medicine, which he thought was going to become the way of the future. Another book, Psychic Frontiers of Medicine, was published as a result of that study.

In the first study Bill focused on the state of treatment for mental diseases. Then he presented theoretical concepts between the mind and body. Psychosomatic medicine was also touched upon, along with the emerging practice of treating the whole person rather than the symptoms. Nutrition and the mind deserved several pages of the study as well as allergy and human ecology. He had included recommendations as to how a new type of medicine could be delivered, along with the estimated costs.

Unpublished manuscript by Marilyn Lake Landreth

Learn More:


The Riordan/Garvey Legacy

Brief video about the founders of the Riordan Clinic