Have you ever met someone that made you feel absolutely special? I would venture to guess that hundreds of people in our community have – in knowing Perry C. McGriff.Jr.
The news of his passing washed over me in waves of sadness for not being able to see him one more time, not thanking him enough, and the undeniable loss for his family and our community.
I am not a member of Perry’s family or close circle of friends – just a community member who he blessed through the years with his time, support and collaboration. I was also fortunate to once work with his son, Matt, of which Perry and I always spoke about with fondness.
Perry was a Gainesville High School Alum, he attended the University of Florida, and he started his insurance career all here in our town. He and his beautiful wife Noel, created a lovely family of five children and 15 grandchildren.
Perry’s life history reads like a “how-to” book for doing the right thing, acting with kindness and helping others. He took on countless titles over the course of 79 years: exemplary son, loving husband, devoted father, doting grandfather, star athlete, supportive mentor, successful businessman, community Politian and dedicated philanthropist. Just to name a few from a never-ending list. His tireless efforts in wearing each mantle with respect, strength and love have been inspirational.
Perry embodied the spirit of the true community champion – planting roots in Alachua County that grew deep and spread wide across all sectors of our area and our state. He worked with over 35 community organizations throughout his lifetime, ranging from youth sports to banking to blood centers.
It was in his exemplary work with LifeSouth Community Blood Centers that I was closest to Perry. He was a dedicated Board Member, and hero of the Five Points of Life Foundation. He was also a “Galloneer” blood donor 67 times over and donated platelets well over 100 times. I worked with him through my involvement in the LifeCord Cord Blood Bank – his energy and commitment to saving lives was relentless, and thousands of people unknowingly owe him thanks.
The beauty of my relationship with Perry is that it is not unique – simply one of hundreds in which people have been inspired, supported and befriended by him. We each share a thread of the collective memory of his actions and his warmth as it weaves through all layers of this community. We each have at least one personal “Perry moment” that made us smile, and feel special and strong. A lot of us have multiple moments, and are just now stringing these together as we remember this most amazing man.
Perry had a great sense of humor and a fabulous laugh. His hugs were sincere, his smile infectious and his intent always kind. Perry also had a not-so-secret hidden talent – extreme photojournalist!
Everyone knows that if something was happening in Greater Gainesville, Perry would be there to take pictures. It wasn’t just that he chronicled the important people, and the important moments. He would walk around the gathering, and photograph everyone – like some polite and friendly paparazzi who always wanted to get you at your best. He made all his photo subjects feel special and important.
His family shared that Perry’s computer hard-drive has over 2,000 names matched to the faces throughout his pictures. He took the time to match our names and faces – to him we were all special.
The best part of being in a Perry photograph is that he would eventually, sometimes months or years later, gift you with a print. Seemingly out of the blue, he would deliver the print to you and say, “I thought of you and thought you might like a copy.” That simple sentiment was very powerful indeed, it was touching to be in his circle of thought and compassion.
That circle is a most precious gift to our community, and it is one of his great legacies. To know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who were woven into his life and can be connected to each other through their shared Perry circle is truly a blessing.
Imagine his glee if we all took a moment, joined hands with one another, and then got to work making things just a little bit better?