Monday, August 17, 2015

Ed Griffin send-off was one for the books

Last night a large group of people came together in a large Surrey hotel ballroom to eat, drink and celebrate the life of a man who touched many.

At different seasons of his life, Ed was a priest, writer, writing teacher, local politician, gardener, and nursery owner who raised flowers as a business.

He was an early adopter of using computers as tools to help writers exchange and comment on one another's work. He was also a great supporter of the John Howard Society.

He marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King, and when he needed to talk to someone about whether he should leave the priesthood, he sought out Ivan Illich, a fellow proponent lifelong learning. Ed was also a husband to his wife Cathy, and father to a daughter and a son.

Some of Ed's most important jobs were volunteer positions. As local writers know very well, he was one of a small group who established the Surrey International Writers's Conference. With its emphasis on writers helping writers, this October event grew until it filled the Sheraton Hotel in Guildford. It now sells out every year and is considered one of the world's top writing conferences.

Ed was also a writing teacher who taught prisoners to express themselves by writing their stories. For many years, he went to Matsqui to connect the prisoners there. His calling was to help people express their personal truths, a theme that came up again and again as many at the celebration stood to speak words of praise and fond remembrance for this remarkable man. 

The MC for the evening was Mike Oulton, former prisoner and co-writer of the book Dystopia with his friend. With great respect and affection, he spoke about Ed's positive influence on him, and the deep connection he felt on the first day they met in prison. Ed had great faith in people, he said, and would go out of his way to attend parole hearings and speak on behalf of prisoners he believed in. In a lighter vein, Mike added, "Ed was a smuggler." He brought in fried chicken and donuts.

Rollie Koop, an old friend of who was also at the founding meeting of the SIWC, spoke of Ed's "boundless passion for helping others find their voice." Now a Superintendent of Schools in Parksville, he praised Ed as an inspiration in his educational work.

Surrey was by no means the only place Ed left his mark. He grew up and entered the priesthood in Cleveland, and fond family members travelled from Ohio and Wisconsin to pay their respects. One man came from Washington, DC to speak about Ed as his "first mentor," who set him on a lifelong positive path. The "white tornado" was not in the neighbourhood for long, he said, but his influence was immortal. The people of this young priest's parish loved him. When the church moved him along, they took up a collection from their limited resources to buy him a car for his journey.

I met Ed in his Creative Writing classes, offered as part of Surrey Continuing Education. I got to know him better when I joined his writing group, the Rainwriters. Rest in Peace, Ed Griffin. You were a good man.

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