James Christopher Bernard Griffin: Father. Husband. Athlete. Volunteer. Born Jan. 3, 1937, in Truro, Britain; died Dec. 8, 2017, in Toronto, from complications following an accident; aged 80.
James Griffin always turned first to the Lives Lived column in The Globe. He loved to read about exceptional lives, but he would never have thought of his own life as exceptional. His family and friends knew better.
James’s life of adventure began with a leap in the dark to escape a raging fire from the second story of his boarding school in Cornwall. He was eight years old. This action undoubtedly forged his ability to push through pain in all kinds of physical activities.
It was the opportunity to work in a gold mine that brought James to Northern Ontario in 1957; he ran dynamite in backpacks up and down mineshafts by day and rode his mail-order bike around the camp after hours. Work at the mine financed his BA in classics at University of Toronto, where he met his wife of 54 years. They met at a Trinity College dance: Elizabeth saw him and decided that if he didn’t ask her to dance, she would go home; fortunately, he asked her.
Lifelong poor eyesight meant he was more comfortable pursuing individual sports. Once, while officiating a rugby match, he stopped the game to have both teams search for his lost contact lens. Even decades later (after many eye surgeries), he still volunteered to lead Bruce Trail hikes even though he was known to miss trail markers and have to be redirected by those he was guiding.
Running, a sport he had pursued since childhood, was his thing. At the age of 42, he achieved a personal best of 2:39:33 at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington – an unusual feat for an accountant whose training was an early-morning run before work.
Cycling was also a passion. James biked every day, whether it was his commute to work through the hilliest parts of Toronto or completing the 1,200-kilometre Paris-Brest-Paris endurance race in 1987. In his 80th year, he logged more than 1,000 kilometres, and during his last race – the Paris-to-Ancaster in 2017 – he was joined by his son, Timothy, and grandson, James.
James was an involved father who coached hockey, taught me and my brother to ski, introduced us to dog sledding and took us camping every summer. Regardless of where we camped or the temperature, the morning dip was a must do, even if it meant scraping frost off the goggles before plunging in. He continued to share his swimming enthusiasm with his grandchildren and was always game to put on his old Speedo for a dip, rain or shine.
James was a hard-working, principled man who led by example. He volunteered as a coach, a time clerk, a treasurer for his cycling club, and carefully maintained a section of the Bruce Trail. He was passionate about his pursuits but in a quiet, determined manner. James was a man of few words, but they were always kind and sincere.
Jean Griffin is James’s daughter.
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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide.