Obituary of James Griffin
Family Memories of James
Born in Cornwall, England, James was the loving younger brother to sisters Rosemary and Hilary. His life as a resilient adventurer began at an early age when, shortly after arriving at boarding school at the age of 8, he had to jump from a second story window in the middle of the night to escape the fire that destroyed his school. This shared experience began a lifelong friendship with Tom Miller. Despite this dramatic start to his education, he fully engaged as much in sports as academics and enjoyed cross-country running, track and field and cycling. Lifelong poor eyesight made him more comfortable pursuing individual sports in which seeing and catching flying objects were not compulsory skills. However, he did love rugby but was better suited to coaching from the sidelines even though that also presented challenges. While refereeing a game at Ridley College in St. Catharine's, the game was halted and both teams were brought to their knees to search for his lost contact lens. Finding lenses was a past time that became an important responsibility for Elizabeth, who has been known to find his contacts in snow banks, sand banks, the floor of the Royal Alex Theatre, Bloor Street and various surfaces around the world.
Although athletic, he clearly embraced academics with his thirst for knowledge and encyclopedic memory. Throughout his life he read anything and everything that came across his path, and he could be so engrossed in his reading that he often didn't notice one of his cats running off with his breakfast while he read the Globe. James was the first human 'google' who might quietly correct any historical or factual inaccuracy; he had a memory that made playing Trivial Pursuit with him a losing battle.
James was a great father who loved being involved in his children's activities. He coached hockey, taught the kids to ski, and was always happy to run, cycle, hike and go camping. James could also be seen out with their three huskies early in the morning running or sledding through their Toronto neighbourhood. James embraced the dog-sledding world and spent weekends helping organize and time races in even the coldest weather. One particularly cold day when James had been timing an event, Jean came back from the trails and asked why there was straw on his hat, “Oh, I fainted from the cold, but I'm fine now.” Right, jolly good, no need to make a fuss!
Summer holidays included camping every year without fail. The family would head off to a favourite spot near Parry Sound. James and Elizabeth eventually bought a cottage there where he loved early morning dips, hiking, canoeing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Camping adventures took the family across Canada and through the States, often with bicycles hanging off the front, back and top of the car. For James, no camping trip would be complete without an early morning swim no matter what the weather. One morning at Lake Superior Provincial Park, he scraped frost off his goggles before plunging into glacially cold water while his children stood on the shore line looking for signs of frostbite. Even James' grandchildren have witnessed his, shall we say, stubborn determination that camping means swimming. Every summer for many years, he and Elizabeth took Fiona, Clarisa, and James camping where he was always keen to put on his 15 year old Speedo and goggles to hop into the lake regardless of sun, rain or cold.
Cycling was a huge part of James' life from an early age growing up in England. He still has the four-speed Raleigh that he bought just after the war and which he used as a commuter bike up until his retirement in 2000; he was never without at least one bike in his life, and usually had a few in reserve including his beloved Mariposa. Even when he first moved to Canada and worked in a gold mine in northern Ontario, he ordered a bicycle through Sears. He rode it around the mining camp to keep fit in between shifts of carrying dynamite in a backpack up and down the mining tunnels which he just recently admitted, “probably wasn't the safest thing, but it's how we did it”.
James was one of the first hard core city commuters who rode to and from work year round. Of course he took the long route through Sunnybrook park which added several kilometers to his ride. Ideally he would also find as many hills as possible to ensure he got a workout. His love for cycling never waned, and he had logged more than 1,000 kms by the beginning of September this year at 80 years old! Some of his accomplishments include completing the Paris-Brest-Paris, covering 1,200 kms in 90 hours; the Raid Pyreneen which involved cycling 720 kms, 18 cols, and 11,000 metres of climbing; and last year, at the age of 79, he rode the 20 km Paris to Ancaster with his son and grandson. One thing always remained essential to a good ride: the more hills, the better.
As well as cycling, James was also an elite marathoner. His greatest achievement was completing the Washington D.C. Marathon with a PB of 2:39:33 at the age of 40. He ran almost every morning, often with dogs on a leash, before getting on his bike to commute to work. To round out his exercise regime, he added swimming so that he could participate in triathlons. One of the toughest he competed in was in Lake Placid where, despite suffering hypothermia and not being able to feel his hands after his swim, he still managed to place at the top of his age category. Friends and family know that James was quietly but stubbornly determined to always push himself, even through pain. For example, despite breaking his wrist early one morning, he still rode his bike to work, worked a full day, rode home and said to Elizabeth, “I think I've done something to my wrist”. A trip to emergency, surgery and a metal plate fixed that little problem. Of course James would never tell that story as he was the master of the understatement. James' phrase, “Oh, I just came off my bike” might mean anything from a trip to intensive care, the emergency ward, or actually, just a little fall off the bike; it always took very specific and detailed questions to get the full story from him.
After retiring, James had more time to go back to England where he loved being with family and friends. On those trips, he also pursued his love of hiking where he enjoyed spending time at Lukesland, hiking on the moors, Hadrian's Wall, and coastlines up and down Wales, Scotland and England. The Bruce Trail became an essential part of his life when he and Elizabeth moved to Alliston. They enjoyed going out several times a week on the trails as well as volunteering regularly for all things Bruce Trail. James and Elizabeth were trail captains, had six kilometres of trail that they maintained, and James also volunteered to lead hikes even though he often led people astray because he couldn't see the markers on the trees. There was always someone there to set them right. They have met a wonderful group of friends with whom they have hiked hundreds of miles of trails through all weather conditions. Hiking the trails took them up and down the Niagara Escarpment but also helped them train for more serious climbs such as Mount Kilimanjaro and the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. Outdoor pursuits were James' passion, and he was game for a good hike year round anywhere he happened to be.
The thing about James is that you never would have heard any of these stories from him unless you asked the right questions. James spoke when necessary and was always interesting and engaging when he did. He had a beautiful laugh and smile that were infectious. James was a man of few words, but they were always kind and sincere words. He was an incredibly caring and generous husband, father, brother, father-in-law, and friend who will be greatly missed. Please feel free to share stories of your adventures with him on these pages so that we may all keep his spirit alive through our memories.