Posted by Philip Poole on 2009-09-10

Tears and laughter filled Samford University’s Reid Chapel Thursday evening (Sept. 10) as the Samford community paid tribute to Jim Griffin.  Griffin, a senior sociology major and member of the men’s basketball team, died in his sleep early Tuesday morning. He was 23.

The most poignant moment of the evening came when Samford President Andrew Westmoreland asked the capacity audience to stand in honor of Griffin’s memory. He related the story of having the Samford flag symbolically lowered to half-mast after Griffin’s death but said, “We have something in this room that is more than just symbolism.  We have flesh and blood.”

To Griffin’s family assembled on the chapel’s front row, Westmoreland said, “All of the lives in this room, all of us standing, have been touched by Jim.”

Westmoreland told the audience that Griffin’s family had not asked much.  “They ask that we keep his memory alive.  That we remember the influence that he had on us.  That we remember the ways he made us better.”

Griffin’s sister, Meg Gardner, herself a former collegiate volleyball player, asked the audience to “please think of Jimmy often and say kind things about him.  It is important to our family that his legacy live on.”

Her brother “obviously was no ordinary person,” Gardner added.  “Looking around at all of you is evidence of that.”

The chapel was filled with a cross-section of the Samford community – students, alumni, parents, faculty, staff and other friends.  Several speakers noted that diversity of relationships was representative of Griffin’s life and influence.

University Minister Matt Kerlin set the tone for the evening in his opening remarks.

“It is difficult to find words at times like these.  Sometimes being together is more powerful than words,” Kerlin said.  “There may be tears and there may be laughter.  Both are appropriate.”

Head Coach Jimmy Tillette was one of several speakers who noted Griffin’s competitive spirit, often drawing fouls and diving for balls that others would avoid or miss.

Tillette said that Griffin “cared very little about stats,” except maybe for the team’s win column.  “He never cared about himself personally.  He cared about the team.”

Hugh Floyd, professor of sociology and Griffin’s advisor, reflected on a passage from the Gospel of Matthew about peacemakers.

The memory that Griffin left for us was “that he was and is a peacemaker,” Floyd said, “a gentle spirit of inclusion.  May we all be better because Jim walked in this place.”

Griffin’s teammate and five-year roommate Trey Montgomery said Griffin was “the heart and backbone of our team.  He had a sense of hope and happiness that no matter the situation, it was all going to be alright.”

Visitation for Griffin will be Sunday (Sept. 13) from 3-9 p.m. at St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church in his hometown of Chicago.  Funeral mass will be at 10 a.m. Monday at the church. 

A graduate of Marist High School in Chicago, Griffin is survived by his parents, Marge and John, his sister and a brother, John.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.