On Monday, September 26, Arabella Senior Managing Director Gwen Walden passed away at home after having lived with cancer for some time.
Her passing meant we lost a colleague, mentor, and friend—not to mention a sometimes quiet but always powerful force for good in the world. We also lost a leader who helped move philanthropy forward across a career that spanned more than three decades, multiple approaches to changemaking, a wide range of issue areas, and a variety of leading philanthropic organizations. There are no words to adequately articulate such a loss. But one of the lessons Gwen taught us was to be honest and direct, both about how we’re doing and about what we’re feeling. With that guidance in mind, we remember her now, and we invite others who knew her to do the same.
Gwen joined Arabella Advisors as a managing director in our San Francisco office in 2012 and helped put Arabella on the map. A decade ago, many of us were still trying to figure out what philanthropy actually did. Gwen had already been director at the California Endowment, a program officer at the J Paul Getty Trust, and the founder of her own private philanthropy consulting practice in Los Angeles. We were (and are) so thankful that she agreed to join our fledgling philanthropy services firm—and then proceeded to help define much of what Arabella has come to be, from our client service, quality, and insights standards to the values at the heart of our social enterprise.
Gwen built multiple practices, structures, and teams that Arabella continues to rely on today. She helped us grow relationships with donors such as the California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, and the Gates Foundation. She even helped expand our San Francisco office literally—by pitching in to help several colleagues move multiple times, back in the days when people still went into offices. She also masterfully facilitated meetings on strategy and strategic implementation, giving and impact investing, advocacy and movement building, and just about everything else philanthropy can do. Along the way, she built deep and abiding relationships with multiple donors, community leaders, grantee partners, and others across our sector. Like us, they will remember her as a coach, a mentor, a trusted advisor, a colleague, and most importantly, a friend.
Even as she was serving as a pillar of the Arabella team on the West Coast, Gwen was also serving as a board member of the Surdna Foundation, the East Bay Community Foundation, and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. These organizations are mourning her, too, and in lieu of flowers or other gifts, Gwen’s family has asked that those who wish to do so make a contribution to one of the latter in memory of her. You can use the links below to do that. We also invite those who knew Gwen to share memories of her through a link below. We will share these with Gwen’s other colleagues, both past and present, and also pass them along to Gwen’s family.
In closing, it feels appropriate to note that Gwen spent a significant amount of time over the past year thinking about the central importance of love in philanthropy—even when, and perhaps especially when, the practice of philanthropy is at its most sophisticated and strategic. As Arabella prepared our first-ever impact report, Gwen offered typically wise guidance: “We should never forget that all philanthropy worthy of the name ultimately comes from a place of love.” In remembering Gwen, we remember a person who was brilliant, strategic, rigorous, tough, collaborative, and technically skilled—and who, most importantly, started from and ended in a place of love, both in her work with us and far beyond. As we move forward, we will endeavor to live up to the example she set, even as we mourn her passing together.
We invite those who knew Gwen to share memories and reflections here.