George Labalme thinks his fifth career may be the one he keepsGeorge Labalme Jr. '50 has seen the frustration and disappointment of friends whose "golden years" become tarnished. "So many of my friends who retire don't know what to do with themselves from morning to night," he says. "Not all of them, of course--many still do wonderful things--but there are others who have been 'retired' from their companies and they are not as content as they would like to be."
Not Labalme. President of the Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation since May 1, 1996, he says he has found a "perch" from which he can continue his career. "This gives me a place to come to and hang my hat," says Labalme of the foundation's office on Fifth Avenue in New York City. "It will be a wonderful way to go through the next decade. I'm very content and very happy."
Labalme seems to feel that way about all the twists and turns his life has taken since his salad days at Kenyon. First, it was on to the Graduate School of Architecture at Princeton University and later the Art Center School in Los Angeles. He worked as a commercial product designer with architect Gio Ponti in Milan and as associate manager of the Paris office of Raymond Loewy, the industrial designer, before founding his own firm, Labalme Associates, in 1957.
Over the next fifteen years, Labalme's company did department-store planning, graphics, corporate-identity programs, trademarks, package design, and trade fairs for clients ranging from Air France to The New York Times. In 1972, wanting to make his mark in a new field, Labalme dissolved his company and became vice president in charge of development, public relations, and special events for the New York Public Library. His experiences there led to a position in 1979 with WNET/Channel 13 in New York City, where he helped launched Dial, a national magazine that focused on public television.
In 1987, he got involved in the venture-capital business as he adjusted his career to that of his wife, Patricia Labalme, a leading Venetian Renaissance historian, who was associate director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. (They have four children: Jenny, a journalist with the Indianapolis Star; Henry, founder of TV Free America; Lisa, a teacher at the Fessenden School in Boston, Massachusetts; and Victoria, a budding performance artist in New York City.)
Now, Labalme enthusiastically focuses on his work at the Langeloth Foundation, where he has been a director for twenty-six years. Founded in 1914, the foundation makes grants to hospitals and other health-care providers that serve "people of education and refinement" from the middle classes. This includes artists, dancers, musicians, singers, and teachers who have no health insurance or gaps in their coverage. Labalme is also a trustee for the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, and treasurer and trustee of the Renaissance Society of America.
"For me, it was not work--it was fun," says Labalme of hisfar-flung interests in business and philanthropy. "I look forward to Monday as opposed to Friday. I'm on my fifth career. I may stop at that."
He credits his liberal-arts education with helping him make career moves with relative ease. "That kind of education opens your mind to all sorts of things--music, poetry, art, architecture, and history," notes Labalme. "A liberal-arts education allows you to be flexible in life and to adapt to different situations. Maybe you become fearless and don't realize what you're getting yourself into."
In October 1995, Labalme returned to Kenyon for the first time since Commencement in 1950. The occasion was the inauguration of Robert A. Oden Jr. as the seventeenth president of the College. An alumnus of the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, Labalme had become Oden's friend and fishing companion when Oden was the headmaster at Hotchkiss. For Labalme, the return to Kenyon stirred fond memories of the professors who took an avid interest in him and his classmates. Nearly five decades have passed, but Labalme needs no prompting in ticking off the names of his professors--John Crowe Ransom, Philip Rice, Philip Timberlake, Charles Coffin, Denham Sutcliffe, and Richard Salomon. "They were absolutely extraordinary teachers," he says. "They shaped my life."
Labalme still revels in the good fortune of having been a Kenyon English major at a time when literary giants such as Robert Frost, Robert Lowell '40, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Penn Warren visited campus. Especially memorable for Labalme were one-on-one chats he enjoyed with Frost, whom he recalls as being "incredibly humble and humane in his attitude toward others."
In addition to attracting leading literary figures, the Kenyon of Labalme's era produced such luminaries as novelist E.L. Doctorow '52, actor Paul Newman '49, and poet James Wright '52. Labalme has stayed in touch with Doctorow and Newman, and they reinforce his belief that people really don't change even after reaching the pinnacle of success in their fields. "Paul Newman and Ed Doctorow are still as amusing, talented, and avuncular today as they were at Kenyon," insists Labalme.
All things considered, Labalme sees himself as a lucky man. "I often feel that if my life ends tomorrow, I will have nothing to complain about--but I'd still like for it go on for a little longer," he says.
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