Greg Gallion is like our conscience.
At any given time, somebody somewhere, and usually a great many somebodies, is in need of help. As Gallion has cheerfully but poignantly reminded us for almost two decades, we're each capable of providing some of that help, virtually no matter what our station in life.
Others might seek our money or our labor. Gallion wants our blood, and he has been pretty good at getting it.
Gallion, as president and CEO of the Houchin Community Blood Bank, has been charming, cajoling, imploring and occasionally guilting us into opening our veins for the good of humanity, especially local humanity, for 18 years now.
But at the end of this month Gallion, 68, turns over his carrot and his stick to Galen Kline, Houchin's younger, admittedly savvier (in terms of technology) chief operating officer. The handlebar mustachioed one is retiring.
To say Gallion leaves Houchin Community Blood Bank better than he found it understates his impact significantly.
The Bakersfield-based nonprofit service organization, founded in 1951 will have drawn and processed 25,000 pints of blood in 2018. There's broad agreement about how Gallion helped make it happen.
"Greg has a way about him," said Cathi Guerrero, an O-negative donor who is also executive director of the Executives' Association of Kern County, of which Gallion is a member. "He's very passionate; a strong personality, a strong leader. He sets himself on a course and he stays on that course."
The course is a challenging one, with no room for droughts or shortfalls. Consider the average demands for blood: cancer (8 units a week), leukemia (2 units a day), heart bypass surgery (5 units), bleeding ulcer (30 units), hip replacement (5 units), brain surgery (10 units), sickle cell anemia (4 units per treatment), auto accident victim (50 units) and organ transplant (40 units). In some instances, patients receiving liver transplants require 100 units of blood.
The need never stops. When a patient undergoes chemotherapy or radiation therapy to treat an aggressive cancer, for example, the treatment can destroy his bone marrow, where blood cells are formed. Until the bone marrow can recover, the patient will likely need platelet transfusions to survive.
The inflow must be stable, constant and, owing to this city's raid growth, ever increasing. That kind of demand requires a boss who understands certain principles.
"The thing that I would say I brought to the Blood Bank was a strong business ethic," said Gallion, who worked in the title insurance industry before moving to Houchin. "Although it's a really feel good organization and a nonprofit, if you don't treat it like a business it'll be out of business. You've got to justify the numbers. That's what I think I brought, along with the passion and the sense of awareness" about the importance of blood donation.
Gallion, born in Bakersfield and raised on the northeast side, where he attended Washington Middle School, East Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield College (he left long enough to attend a small private university in Kansas), has played the local good-ol'-boy card effectively.
He's authentic, all right: As a member of the Rancheros Visitadores, or visiting cowboys, he works with other part-time cowboys to gather, brand and work cattle. The aroma of the prairie generally does not follow him into the board room, however; he cleans up well enough to present effectively in front of corporate partners.
One such partner is Bolthouse Properties LLC, which in 2010 donated five acres that allowed Houchin to build a much-needed blood center in the city's ever-growing southwest. The new Houchin site, located on Buena Vista Road south of White Lane, opened in 2013 as the first tenant in Bolthouse's 250-acre Seven Oaks Business Park.
"We refer to Greg very fondly as Christopher Columbus, since he was the first one here ... when it was all carrot field," said Bruce Davis, Bolthouse's senior vice president of development.
"He has been a blessing to this community with all of the things he does over at the Blood Bank."
Gallion left a 23-year career in the title insurance industry, a highly competitive field, for the world of nonprofit. He was already involved with the blood bank, having served on its board of directors for four years. A member of Bakersfield Rotary Club, Gallion was tapped for a seat of the Houchin board by fellow club member, the late Eldon Geisert, then executive officer of the blood bank, and he stuck around.
Kline came to Houchin as its quality assurance officer and quickly evolved into a more significant role. He is nationally connected and has a good reputation around the country.
"Knowing he is someone I've chosen, and he's very outgoing and engaging, the community will embrace him with open arms," Gallion said.
Gallion retires officially on Dec. 31.
After that he'll have just one meaningful responsibility: To wife Sheryl, whom he met in 1977 at Stewart Title Co. They were married in 1979; their 40-year anniversary is April 14. Gallion doesn't seem the type to forget, but let's all remind him anyway: He's not shy about reminding donors when they're overdue.