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He is scheduled to have lunch with the president of a New York corporation who wants to talk about moving his headquarters to Columbus, Ohio, and he has to confer with his executives about the skyscrapers, hotels and apartment complexes that his company builds around the world. He also has to talk with his horse trainer in Florida. So it is understandable that John W. Galbreath glances at his wristwatch as he begins to give his visitor a quickie tour of the lodge at his Darby Dan Farm near Columbus.
At 82, Galbreath has the drive and energy of a much younger man. He still takes an active role in all of his various enterprises—his construction company, the Pittsburgh Pirates, his Darby Dan thoroughbred breeding and racing operations. He also finds time for fishing and hunting—and recruiting for Ohio State's football and basketball teams.
Now he plunks his hat and topcoat on the back of a giant stuffed tiger that guards the lobby of the lodge. Galbreath killed the tiger on a safari in India in 1961. The animal measured 10'5", which means that, standing erect, it would have been almost twice as tall as the 5'8" man who turned him into a souvenir. "I was scared to death," says Galbreath, taking his visitor through the lodge, describing the big-game animals whose heads and skins adorn the paneled walls.
The trophies won by the Pirates and Darby Dan fill the cases in one of the lodge's rooms. Galbreath has so many trophies he rotates them according to the interests of his guests. On this day, the World Series trophies won by the Pirates in 1971 and 1979 (there was no trophy when they won the 1960 Series) are locked up, and the racing trophies are out. "There's something you won't see anywhere else," says Galbreath. On a mantel the 1972 Epsom Derby trophy is flanked by two Kentucky Derby trophies. He is the only person to have won Derbies on both sides of the Atlantic.
When Galbreath is asked to name his favorite sport, he demurs. "When you cross the racetrack into the winner's circle after the Kentucky Derby, well, how do you compare that with getting the World Series trophy in the locker room after the final game? You can't. I love 'em all."
Nor, he says, is there any special secret to his remarkable success in business and sport. "I'm not a bit different from anybody else," Galbreath says. "I just enjoy work. If you're around when something needs to be done, do it. I call it Teutonic pluck. Desire, dedication and motivation are the things that dominate in life."
In addition to his home on the farm, Galbreath has an apartment in New York, a winter home on La Gorce Island in Florida, a summer home in Saratoga, a hunting and fishing lodge in Canada and a home at his Darby Dan breeding farm in Lexington, Ky. Nevertheless, he takes pride in being unpretentious. He doesn't use a chauffeur, except in New York City, and he has never had one of the skyscrapers he built named in his honor. "That would be too vain," he says.
Galbreath and his 52-year-old son Dan have adjoining offices in a suite on the ninth floor of the Borden Building, a 32-story edifice in Columbus that John W. built and partly owns. In recent years Galbreath has delegated more and more business responsibility to his son (in 1970 he made him president of the Pirates), but the problem, according to Dan, is to get his father to delegate even more (John W. continues to be chairman of the board of the Pirates, for example).
"He's been a one-man show going all the way back to 1921," Dan says, "but we're just too big for that now. You can't be everywhere. You can't be putting deals together in Pittsburgh when you're in Dublin or Hong Kong."
John Galbreath still tries, though. He keeps two jets at a landing strip at the Darby Dan Farm in Columbus. He stays in close touch with all his enterprises, in person, which entails spending about 600 hours a year in the air. When he is criticized in Pittsburgh for being an absentee owner of the Pirates, he points out that he can hop in one of his jets and be at Three Rivers Stadium quicker than many fans can get there from the Pittsburgh suburbs.