Community Stalwart Don Griggs Succumbs to COVID-19
By Dianne Anderson
Don Griggs moved through thick bureaucracies with ease, able to get the hardest to reach community the services that they deserve.
Those who watched him take care of business through the decades say his true strength was his stealth-like behind the scenes action.
He never had to bang tables to get the job done.
Griggs passed away last week. He died from Coronavirus.
Westside Action Group President Stan Amiri Futch described Griggs as a man of action, and that the most powerful aspect of his personality is that he got results quickly, but without any fanfare.
Futch said he got more done through the back door that others couldn’t’ get by knocking on the front door.
“Don would meet with people, convince them that what he was trying to do was the right thing to do, and it always was, Futch said. “He was well-spoken and when he did talk, you got the sense that this man knew what he was talking about.”
He recalls first meeting Griggs through WAG, having been brought to the group by the late Ratibu Jacocks.
A long time resident of Rialto, Griggs was involved in politics and Futch said his finger was on the pulse of help for the community. As a supervisor with Southern California Edison early in his career, Griggs often went to great lengths to help people keep the lights on.
He’d contact higher-ups so people could catch up on their payments.
“People would call him at his home and say I haven’t paid my bill, they’re going to shut my lights off. He’d say give me your name address and account number so I can look into it,” Futch said.
Futch came to WAG much later than other members, but he said Griggs always encouraged him to stay on top of the issues for the organization.
He said Griggs led an extraordinary life, and that whatever he was involved in, he gave it everything.
“If he was a part of something, if he was on your board, he was involved all the way,” he said. “If you called him and you needed something, Don would get it.”
Close friend and fellow WAG member, Walter Hawkins, said Griggs was tirelessly persistent and dedicated.
One project that he took the lead on was to preserve the memory of the late community icon, Frances Grice who had overseen programming, funding, development and the building of the nonprofit training center, Operation Second Chance in the 1970s. Today, it stands as the New Hope Family Life Center.
“He was one of the main forces behind getting her plaque, making sure there was something put up to recognize her Operation Second Chance,” Hawkins said.
He met Griggs in the early ’70s when he frequently bought accessories at his stores, both co-owned with the late Irv Silvers. Later, Griggs branched out with his own business, selling his famous designer ties and clothing at Nordstrom’s.
Among Griggs many community commitments, he also chaired the nonprofit Priscilla’s Helping Hands, reaching the high needs low-income community with case management services. He was a recipient of numerous accolades. In 2018, both he and his wife were honored by the Black Culture Foundation as the Senior King and Queen.
“Don was hardcore. He was a Marine, he lived it, he wasn’t afraid of nothing. He was very strong, he didn’t mince his words,” Hawkins said.
Alton Garrett, past president of WAG, retired from Nortan AFB in the late 1980s when he and Griggs met at WAG, becoming fast friends around shared interests of military service.
“It was a service-to-service type of thing. We always had that. Over the years he became to be a stalwart in the community for anything and everything that was needed,” Garrett said.
Griggs, as president of the West Valley Water District Ratepayers Association, was instrumental for shedding light on the dysfunctional water board, and he pressed for transparency and reforms, Garrett added.
He also reflects fondly on Griggs’ sense of style. As a staff representative for former United States Senator Barbara Boxer, he wore Griggs ties daily, not just for Black History Month. The job always kept him suited up.
“So I enjoyed going through his ties and I probably purchased one too many, but so be it,” he laughs, adding that after WAG meetings, he and Griggs often went to lunch.
“We’d sit around and chew the fat for an hour or so,” he said. “He was a straight shooter, he was good for the community, a good family guy. Everything he did was on the up and up.”
Dr. Samuel Gibbs also recalls meeting Griggs about 18 years ago, impressed with how gentlemanly and laid back he was, but steadfast to the cause. He always kept on top of City Council minutes.
“He never raised his voice, but he was always determined. He cared about things that sometimes a lot of other people would just let go,” he said.
“Designed by Don” ties were a mainstay of the late Johnny Cochran, a story Griggs often shared with Gibbs because they were both Kappa Alpha Phi fraternity brothers. Cochran often wore Griggs ties in the courtroom.
“They were discreet and sharp ties with African patterns. I saw them everywhere,” he said. “Sometimes in Los Angeles, I’d ask, where did you get the tie? They’d say my wife got it out in your area.”
He said that Griggs will always be admired for his ties, but best-loved for his heart.
“He’s left a major imprint,” he said. “He was just a good friend, he cares about people. You will continue to see his legacy in the community, he’ll be around for a long time.”