Remembering Redd

Teacher, student, generous soul dies at 73

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

With Redd Griffin there was no such thing as a short conversation. He knew too much, and it was all connected. He could take you to the seemingly innocuous intersection of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street, and suddenly you saw it — and the entire village — as the juxtaposition of old world architecture (southeast corner, modeled on the Rothaus in Frankfort, Germany) and the new world (southwest corner, the Prairie-style Scoville Square building). On the northwest corner, you heard about James Scoville, resting on the ridge (a continental divide, for heaven's sake) of what is now the 100-year-old Scoville Park (designed by famous landscape architect Jens Jensen) and deciding to settle there. Suddenly you saw the entire life span of the village, stretching out from that hill.

Suddenly you were seeing the Oak Park that Redd Griffin saw — and lived in and celebrated — the village where everything is an intersection.

Redd died unexpectedly of a heart condition on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 at Rush Oak Park Hospital. He was 73.

Writing the obituaries of most people, it is difficult to encompass them. With Redd Griffin, it is impossible.

He taught history at Morton East and West high schools. A lifelong Republican, he served a term as state representative in Springfield in the early 1980s. He was Oak Park's greatest champion of Ernest Hemingway, serving on the board of the local Hemingway Foundation, which he co-founded in 1983. He was also a co-founder the Wright Preservation Trust in the 1970s and the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest in the 1960s. He was married to his loyal life partner, Mary Jo, for 42 years. They had two sons and two grandsons and lived in their home on Kenilworth Avenue with the beloved back deck where Redd held court with guests late into the evening (and early into the morning).

And none of that even begins to define him.

When he was born in Oak Park Hospital, his mother shared a room with Sunny Hemingway, Ernie's younger sister.

Redd attended Bishop Quarter Military Academy, located in the building that first housed Oak Park High School at East Avenue and Lake Street, and the truncated version of which now serves as the home of Stephanie Clemens' Academy of Movement and Music. During his time at Bishop Quarter, he commuted from Chicago State Mental Hospital (now Chicago-Read Mental Health Center) on North Oak Park Avenue, where his father was the superintendent and the Griffin family lived on the grounds. In later years, they moved to River Forest.

He attended OPRF High School for two years in the mid-1950s, then gained early admission to Shimer College, an experimental school based on the ideas of the University of Chicago's legendary president Robert Maynard Hutchins. There he became a lifelong devotee of Hutchins' Great Books program.

He served in U.S. Army Intelligence in Berlin during the early 1960s, when the Wall went up. He was there during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and heard Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. He experienced a profound spiritual conversion in Berlin, which he described as a mystical experience.

He worked for WTTW in the 1950s, and managed to have a private conversation with Frank Lloyd Wright as he waited for a televised interview. On a trip to California, he managed to track down and visit author John Steinbeck. He was still on the WTTW Community Advisory Board when he died.

He served a stint with the City News Bureau.

He was a Republican who was also a proponent of alternative medicine and vegan restaurants. And he cultivated friendships with local liberals like Tom Ard and the late Journal columnist Francis J. Walsh (not to mention a certain current columnist with Wednesday Journal).

He became state rep just as the effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution came to a head and a vote.

He and Mary Jo were avid supporters of Alcuin, the first Montessori school in the village, where they enrolled their two sons.

After retiring from Morton, he continued to teach courses at Triton College and Holley Court Terrace. He also gave presentations through Elderhostel.

He was a board member of the Illinois State Historical Society and was just about to join the board of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. He was also a recipient of the Senior Citizens Center's Ulyssean Award for his many contributions to the community.

He wrote and collaborated on readers theater productions and led Hemingway discussion groups for the foundation.

He established relationships with the Hemingway and Wright family and coordinated visits to Oak Park and River Forest by members of both — when he died, he was coordinating the visit of Ernie's grandson, Sean Hemingway, on Dec. 1.

The problem with Redd is that it takes so long to describe him, you never get around to saying how you feel about him. But here's a sample:

"Redd was one of the smartest, most vibrant people I have ever known, and I feel like a huge hole has opened up in the world that will be impossible to fill," said Sue Mosher, one of the students in his Triton philosophy class.

"I will surely miss our conversations, and listening to his ideas on the continuum linking Jeffersonian democracy, the legacy of Hemingway and Wright, and Oak Park's past, present and future values." (Mike Iverson)

"Redd Griffin was a wonderful human being, the kind of man who gave Oak Park a good name." (Christine Vernon)

"Redd's intellect and warm, generous spirit will be terribly missed. He understood as well as anyone the sense of place and character that define Oak Park and he worked relentlessly to preserve those qualities." (Kathryn Jonas)

"He had high standards in his teaching and his work with many organizations. It's hard to visualize the Ernest Hemingway Foundation without him." (Maryanne Rusinak)

"He cared so deeply about so many things. That's why he talked so much," noted Martha Swisher, who hosted Redd on many a porch night.

Redd Griffin was a lifelong learner, a lifelong educator, and a master integrator of our past and present, finding value and meaning in it all. His heart was as expansive as his mind.

He only did one thing badly. You couldn't interview him because with Redd Griffin, there were no short (or simple) answers.

In addition to Mary Jo, Redd is survived by his sons, Daniel (Sarah) and Timothy Griffin; his grandsons, James and Reid Griffin; and his siblings, Michael Griffin and Marnie (Joseph) Fretty.

Visitation was held on Nov. 26 at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home. The funeral Mass was celebrated on Nov. 27 at St. Vincent Ferrer Church in River Forest, followed by interment at Queen of Heaven Cemetery.

In honor of Redd, please support your favorite local charity.

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

37 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Donald Schilke from Englewood, Florida  

Posted: January 29th, 2014 10:45 AM

I just learned about Redd's passing. It was like getting a heavey kick in the stomach. How extremely fortunate Oak Park was to have had this rare man. de Gaulle once said that cemeteries are filled with indispensable people. He didn't know Redd Griffin, whose timeless achievements will keep Oak Park alive long after all of us are gone. Tears run down both of my cheeks. God bless you dear buddy.

Jesse Ivory from Oak Park  

Posted: November 30th, 2012 10:16 AM

Last year, I had the pleasure of serving as coordinator of the programs that Redd taught at Triton. He was an awesome man and generous soul as the title of this article suggests. He will be truly missed. I feel priviledged to have known him.

Yates Hafner  

Posted: November 26th, 2012 11:34 PM

The rest of the poem goes on: "We shall be active / Where our deeds work on. / We shall weave in the spirit, / Where human thoughts are woven / Into the Word of unending thought."

Yates Hafner from River Forest  

Posted: November 26th, 2012 11:24 PM

Redd recently told me of his interest in Rudolf Steiner. In Steiner's poem "The One Who Has Died Speaks" we hear these words: "I was united with you. / Remain united in me. / Together we shall speak / The language of eternal existence" (my trans.).

Rich C  

Posted: November 26th, 2012 11:48 AM

My condolensces to Redd's family. I remember him as an energetic, engaging member of the community. Rest well my friend.

colleen Kadlec from Riverside  

Posted: November 25th, 2012 5:00 PM

Redd came to my classrooms to share Oak Park history and Hemingway--a man for all seasons who could relate and connect well with those of any age. He touched so many.

Tom Masters from Oak Park  

Posted: November 24th, 2012 7:02 PM

Beneath all that Ken outlines was Redd's deep faith. He spoke to me (and others, I'm sure) of the mystical experience that illuminated all his relationships and endeavors. He shared everything--heart, mind, and soul--with everyone.

Violet Elli from Orland Park  

Posted: November 24th, 2012 6:12 PM

Redd had a smile for everyone, a bright star that shone in many directions. We will miss him.

Donna Rook from Chicago  

Posted: November 24th, 2012 5:25 PM

Rest in peace, gentle man.

Mike Pehanich from Westchester  

Posted: November 24th, 2012 5:02 PM

His heart WAS as expansive as his mind...yet both were exceeded by his appetite for friendship. We have lost a dear friend, but I pity humanity's loss even more.

John Keohane from Austin, Texas  

Posted: November 24th, 2012 5:00 PM

Redd and I studied at Shimer College in the late 50s. Redd was always active: student council, math club, college radio station. Email me to learn more. John Keohane, BA, Shimer College. 1959 keohane@prodigy.net

Mary Pat Barbarie from Chicago, IL  

Posted: November 23rd, 2012 6:32 PM

I came to know Redd through his love of Shimer College. He was a tireless advocate and a true friend. May his family know peace through good memories of his smiling face and keen mind.

GFoley from Seoul  

Posted: November 23rd, 2012 6:43 AM

God bless the Griffin family. Heartfelt condolences. Such a nice article.

Dave Vogt from Logan Oh  

Posted: November 22nd, 2012 9:28 PM

I am Sarah's brother. I now know I was in the midst of greatness when I was in Redd's presence. It's been a privilege to have known this great man. Dave

janna mcgivern from carol stream, il  

Posted: November 22nd, 2012 10:52 AM

My Uncle Redd was truly an amazing conversationist, but more was a great listener. We spent every Christmas Eve together with his wife Mary Jo and my Uncle Mike. My family will miss him dearly. God Bless him and all that knew him.

Paul Hendrickson from Philadelphia, Pa  

Posted: November 21st, 2012 3:50 PM

I write from Philadelphia. Mary-Jo called me last evening as I was driving home from the university where I teach. Her grace was astonishing. All day today I have had Redd in mind--a decent, faithed, generous, curious mind. He will not be forgotten.

Front page  

Posted: November 21st, 2012 3:18 PM

Shouldnt this be on the front page of OakPark.com?

Diane Gilbert Madsen from Englewood FL  

Posted: November 21st, 2012 1:25 PM

Redd was unfailingly generous with his knowledge and his time, especially on Hemingway. I shall miss greatly his lively discussions and his many interesting stories. A good man whom everyone liked - I hope he's enjoying time with Hemingway

Rick Piwowarczyk from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2012 9:55 AM

I will never forget the many literary discussions with Redd as part of the Hemingway Foundation. I doubt anyone loved Oak Park and its rich hisotry the way Redd did. He will be missed by many, and his contributions will not be forgotten.

Mike Iversen from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2012 8:08 AM

Redd was a scholar, a gentleman, and a friend. I will surely miss our conversations, and listening to his ideas on the continuum linking Jeffersonian democracy, the legacy of Hemingway and Wright, and Oak Park's past, present and future values.

paul from river forest  

Posted: November 21st, 2012 1:31 AM

I worked with Redd as a guitarist for many of his Hemingway presentations and other productions. He was an intelligent, insightful, kind and creative soul. Redd, thanks for letting me work with you.

Carol Buske  

Posted: November 21st, 2012 1:13 AM

Remembering Redd Griffin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vSiUhh6a8M&feature=endscreen&NR=1

Dorene Wiese from Chicago  

Posted: November 21st, 2012 12:34 AM

Redd was a kind,understanding man, who listened and respected what you had to say. He nudged our ideas,our conclusions,our dreams. May we meet again dear friend.

Clare (Obis) Barrett from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 10:55 PM

Condolences to the Griffin family. Mary Jo always seemed to be so enamored of and in love with her dear Redd!

Carol Buske from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 9:28 PM

What a deep loss personally and to the community Redd served so well. My thoughts and prayers go out to Mary Jo and all Redd's family. Redd gave a lovely eulogy at my dad's service. Tears blur my eyes as I write this thinking of these special men.

Christine Vernon from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 8:06 PM

I am so sorry to read about this loss. What a nice man! Such a gentleman, and so smart. Redd Griffin was a wonderful human being, the kind of man who gave Oak Park a good name. My sincere sympathy to the Griffin Family.

J.Martin Konecki from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 6:02 PM

Such a sad day for O P Redd was a such a stand up person who dedicated his time & resources to many organizations not only in O P, but all over.A great story teller as well as a warm hearted guy. My thoughts and prayers to his fam & all that knew him

Doug Deuchler from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 5:11 PM

Redd was very gracious and gentle and loved to share his opinions and viewpoints. He was so very smart about so many things. He'll be greatly missed in this community.

Margaret (Maggie) Steinz from Chicago  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 5:01 PM

Sad news today...Redd is in my heart as a gentle man, a gentleman, a model citizen, and a scholar. With the WTTW Community Advisory Board, I send condolences to his family/ other friends, and prayers and angels with him. an honor to have known him.

Michael Seefeldt from Riyadh  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 2:52 PM

A friend you are so glad to have known. And you always learned from him - Illinois ed, history, FLW, Hem family stuff, etc, etc, etc Requiesce in pace, amicus carus. Vale!

Bob Walsh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 2:51 PM

I had the distinct honor of serving with Redd on the Hemingway foundation board. He was never without a kind word or an astute perspective. Our village is diminished by the loss of his gentle demeanor and his unfailing generosity.

Maryanne Rusinak from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 2:49 PM

Redd gave of his knowledge, kindness, and spirituality to all who knew him. He had high standards in his teaching and work with many organizations. It's hard to visualize the Ernest Hemingway Foundation without him.

kathryn jonas from oak park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 2:45 PM

This is a great loss for Oak Park. Redd's intellect and warm, generous spirit will be terribly missed. He understood as well as anyone the sense of place and character that define Oak Park and he worked relentlessly to preserve those qualities.

Teresa Powell  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 2:27 PM

My sincere sympathy to Mary Jo and the family. Redd shared with all who knew him his passion for history and literature, particularly Ernest Hemingway. We will miss him.

Galen Gockel from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 2:20 PM

Flights of angels have carried Redd home. A true Renaissance man, to whom the community owes much.

Lanny Lutz from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 2:18 PM

He was a gentle, giving, caring man. "Public Thinker" was his favorite title for himself and fit him to a tee. A dear friend. We miss him already. Deeply.

Patricia Koko from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 2:03 PM

What a shock! Redd was a dear friend and caring community leader. His wit and insights will be sorely missed.

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