Gordon Getty ’56 Turns 90 — The Art of Giving and Lasting Change

by Garrett Starr, Office of Development Communications

University of San Francisco alumnus and philanthropist, Gordon P. Getty ’56, celebrates ninety years of life on December 20, 2023.

“We’d all hang out at Gordon’s mother’s house, all of us very, very close friends,” said John Mallen ’55, a lifelong friend of Getty’s and fellow USF alumnus. “Music was his thing. Gordon would always play the piano in the front room where we’d spend the most time…

“We all ended up at USF at one time or another and created a lifelong bond through school and annual trips to Tahoe. There was a family atmosphere, especially in the San Francisco homes where we spent so much time.”

Ann and Gordon Getty
Ann and Gordon Getty

Getty’s generosity and close relationship with USF have grown and evolved throughout his 90-year journey. His gifts helped build the Koret Health & Recreation Center, John Lo Schiavo, S.J. Center For Science & Innovation, and established The J. Paul Getty Honors College Fund.

By giving a range of meaningful gifts over time, from $100 installments to multi-millions, Getty has cared for USF in a multitude of ways throughout his storied life. Increasing his involvement over time, he sat on a steering committee for the improvement of the university in the late ’70s, held a seat on the Board of Trustees from 1996-99, and recently gave $15 million in funding for the establishment of the Ann Getty Institute of Art and Design at USF.

As a Lo Schiavo Legacy Society member, Getty has made an everlasting mark on USF’s campus and culture that is rooted in his affinity for the arts — a passion that was shared by his late wife, Ann Getty. With his continued commitment to the university and the creation of the new art institute, the impact of the couple’s generosity on future generations of students and the USF arts community will only grow from here.  

Actors performing on stage
A 1954 performance by the College Players

A renowned writer, composer, and lifelong artist, some of Getty’s first public poetic and performing works were embarked upon as an undergraduate student at USF. In alignment with USF’s mission and values, Getty’s early artistic endeavors often featured a global political lens.

From 1953–54, he published poetry inspired by the events of the Korean War and reviewed the city’s opera scene in the San Francisco Quarterly. In 1954–55, he composed both comedic and dramatic scores for USF’s performance group of the era, the College Players, while acting in plays like Darkness at Noon that critically tackled topics of Soviet life.

A noted composition from his student days was featured in the 1955 campus comedy, One Shoe Off — a first-of-its-kind College Player performance. Fittingly, One Shoe Off might have started Getty on the right foot as a composer.

Committed to the craft throughout his life, he has garnered global notoriety for his musical performance scores. The USF community can participate in this legacy on February 2, 2024 when USF hosts a showing of his opera film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Based on a 1934 novella of the same title, it is a human-centric tale about the intricacies of college campus life and one person’s devotion to a school.

Actor standing on stage
Mr. Chips, played by Nathan Granner in Gordon Getty’s opera for film

Like Mr. Chips’ relationship with his school, Getty’s giving is evidence of a unique life led by example. In alignment with USF’s core value of cura personalis, his contributions to campus facilities continue to enable the betterment of the body, mind, and inspired artistry of students and the greater USF community. The Honors College that he established provides more inclusive access to those resources for current and future generations.

Turning toward the future, Getty’s largest gift yet, in honor of his late wife, Ann Getty, promises to bring together esteemed artists, designers, architects, and performers to inhabit a campus and a community creating good through the power of the visual and performing arts.

Learn more about Gordon Getty’s art and legacy at a showing of his opera reimagined for film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, on campus February 2, 2024. Read more and reserve your ticket.