He was always on the move — even moments before he had his heart attack.
Redd Griffin, 73, died on Nov. 20, at 3 a.m., according to his wife, Mary Jo, who contacted the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, which Redd co-founded decades ago. Just before the heart attack, he was scheduled to take a 4 a.m. train to South Holland, according to Virginia "Ginie" Cassin, who in a telephone interview described her old friend this way:
"He had so many irons in the fire. He was working with the State Historical Society on the board. He was teaching at Triton. Everyone loved him there. He was so knowledgeable. You'd ask him about one story and he had six more, all related, all important, and all incredibly interesting. He was on the Senior Citizens Center board. He won an award for what he did to help seniors. He was a man for all times. He was so gracious and kind. A true Rotarian is how I discussed him today at the Rotary Club.
"He was a gentleman from head to foot, a gentleman who never said no."
Full disclosure — this reporter is also a board member of the Hemingway Foundation, thanks in part to Griffin and Cassin, who recruited me with the help of Ade Onayemi to help diversify the board and add a reporter's investigative eye to the academicians and entrepreneurs who make up the board. Redd knew my late father-in-law, Judge Earl Strayhorn; brother-in-law, Donald; wife, Earlene; daughter, Lauren and twin teen sons, Amman and Jordan. He teased me that I've written dozens of columns about everyone but him.
Today, as I finally share a word or two about this fine historian and former City News Service reporter (another thing we shared), I sense he's somewhere upstairs smiling saying, "You missed my deadline, Stan, but better late than never." And so the story goes.
In addition to his news bureau work he also worked at WTTW-TV, where he served as a Citizens Advisory Board member. As a state representative in the Illinois General Assembly, he would tell me, "The line between moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats was an imaginary one." He served with the U.S. Army in Berlin and witnessed the President Kennedy's visit to that city.
Most folks, however, seemed to know him from his tireless work at the Hemingway Foundation. According to foundation staffer Allison Marie Hotard, at a ceremony on Memorial Day last year, Griffin spoke eloquently of Hemingway's writing on war and peace, that Hemingway made it clear his view, based on his own wartime experiences, was that "abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallowed were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the number of regiments and the dates." Apparently, Hemingway saw those words as empty, Griffin explained.
Redd was scheduled to introduce Hemingway's grandson, Sean, on Dec. 1 at the Hemingway Museum. He will be in town on Nov. 30 to honor his famous grandfather at the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame in the Chicago Cultural Center. I wasn't sure I was going to attend, but now I will.
Of the many conversations with Redd on panels, board retreats, and Despatch articles [the foundation's newsletter], perhaps the most memorable was when French broadcasters spent a morning chatting with the two of us about Hemingway. Even the French now know Redd Griffin.
You can find that conversation here.
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