Formative Years

From his idyllic California childhood during WWI, where he played with his brother among the lima bean fields of a young Beverly Hills, to his decision to major in psychology at Stanford and pursue his PhD at UC Berkeley, John Gardner was fascinated with the theme of human potential and the conditions that allowed it to flourish. The Sierra Nevada became a touchstone in his life, the place he loved as a boy, where he tried his hand as a novelist, and where he sought lifelong focus and inspiration. John Gardner credits his mother, Marie Burns, with instilling his core values very early. His father, William Gardner, died soon after he was born.

Gardner's wife of sixty-five years, Aida Marroquín, and their family remained his north star throughout his life.

John W. Gardner on a pony as a child
John W. Gardner as a child
John W. Gardner panning for gold as a child

From left to right:

On his grandfather’s farm in Atascadero, CA

Circa 1915-1916

Panning for gold in the Sierra Nevada

Being a Westerner probably affected me markedly. There was an optimism in the air in California when I was young. I was born in 1912, grew up through the first World War, and there was a kind of sense of the future out there beckoning. Anything was possible. It was a very open, forward-looking time.

John W. Gardner, Oral History at Claremont Graduate University, 1991
John W. Gardner with his mother and brother

Family Photo

A young John Gardner (left) with his mother Marie Burns and brother Louis Gardner. Burns later took in her nephews, Louis and Henry Godman, raising all four boys with the help of her own mother.

Memoirs: Childhood, World War I

Listen to Gardner describe his mother, Marie Burns, and her influence on him

Click on the three horizontal dots, select "Side B" and listen from 24:48 to 29:06

Punahou School class photo, 1928-1929
John W. Gardner on the Stanford Swim Team
Aida Marroquín Gardner and John W. Gardner at his Stanford graduation

From left to right:

Gardner (second from left in second row) spent his senior year of high school in Hawaii attending Punahou School, 1928-1929.

Gardner was a member of the Stanford swim team.

With Aida Marroquin Gardner at his Stanford graduation, 1935.

John W. Gardner in a Psychology Lab


In the experimental psychology lab at UC Berkeley, circa 1937-1938. Prior to World War II, Gardner was on the Psychology faculty at Connecticut College for Women and Mount Holyoke College.