WESTFIELD: Imagine a wide, crystal clear river, bringing growth and life to everything it passes through on its way to the great ocean. The river goes by many names; one is Walter Griffith. Walter L. “Larry” Griffith, 72, (1948 – 2021) passed away at home on Thursday, February 18, 2021.
He came into this world shortly after the end of WWII. His mother, Evelyn Moore Griffith, and his father, Walter Lawrence Sr., were both serving in the Army when they met: Evelyn was an Army nurse, and Walter, a licensed pharmacist who helped teach doctors headed to the Pacific theater about drugs for tropical diseases. They made the Detroit area their home, raising Larry and Cathy (his sister) in its Grosse Pointe Woods suburb. In the early grades, Larry’s natural brilliance in mathematics became increasingly evident. Beginning in junior high, he was winning Statewide competitions in the field, and may have been the youngest substitute math teacher at Gross Pointe South High, giving classes while a student there himself. His college years began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mathematics in 1971, and then added (no pun intended) a Mathematics Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1975. His long teaching career had its start at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. A few years later, he took a position with Westfield State College (now Westfield State University), which offered what he most desired: working directly with students and greater influence in developing curriculum. During his 32-year tenure, besides serving on many committees [Presidential Search, Promotions, All College], he carried a full teaching load of Math and CompSci classes each semester; was Math Department Chair for many years; assisted in development of a degree program in Computer Science; coached and accompanied students to regional computer programming contests; and is credited by his colleagues with substantially swelling Department pride. He was greatly admired and respected by his students as well, and what better way for them to express their regard, than to build an enormous wall of empty Coca-Cola cans outside his office “(the Professor’s cola intake is legendary”). For his last sabbatical before retirement, he received a grant from the International Centre for Theoretical Institute in Italy to build a Computer Science program in Sierra Leone at the Njala University College in Mokonde – quite a challenge when the school’s generator could provide only 2 hours of power a day. He returned to the U.S. fifty pounds lighter, because he wanted to live like the poverty-stricken locals did, and not take advantage of the better diet available to foreigners. Teaching was core to Larry, as was his Church membership and ministry involvement. He was a long-serving FUMC [First United Methodist Church] Lay Leader, whose weekly sermons benefited from his naturalness in teaching and were, without exception, highly relevant to all the good and not-so-good situations we encounter daily. For many years, he was Lay Member to the Annual Conference, fulfilling the many tasks it entailed, and served on and/or chaired a host of committees – Staff-Parish Relations, Finance, Mutual Ministry Team among them. Related to his time in Sierra Leone, he proposed that FUMC sponsor a young man to come to the U.S. to earn a college degree. The success of that effort gave Augustine Fannah the wherewithal to vastly improve his circumstance, which he parlayed into financially aiding his mother and siblings who were still living in a war-torn country. (Augustine currently works for the International Red Cross, providing humanitarian aid to natural-disaster-stricken areas.) After twenty-nine years of volunteer work at the Town’s soup kitchen, Larry added the coveted FUMC Wooden Spoon Award to his collection of honors. He never missed a youth soccer or baseball game his boys played in, and would willingly volunteer to don chest protector and catcher helmet when the umpire was a no-show. His preferred exercise was walking miles and miles around town, and his enjoyment of science fiction books never waned. Not too long after retirement, the call of the classroom became increasingly louder, and was easily quieted with a schedule of tutoring needy students in math at the Westfield Voc a couple days a week.
Larry is survived by his loving wife of 33 years, Diane F. (Bannish) Sutton; his three sons, Aneurin Sutton of Westfield; Gwyon Sutton of West Springfield; and Taliesin Sutton, his wife Katharine Predick, and their three children, Minerva, Calliope and Linus of Tucson, AZ; his sister Catherine O’Sullivan and her husband Robert of Washington, D.C., and their daughters Mairead O’Sullivan Leong, and husband Alex, and Clare Ciara O’Sullivan.
Private services for immediate family will be held at Firtion Adams Funeral Home in Westfield on Friday at 2:00pm; a link for virtual attendance is being provided by Firtion Adams at https://my.gather.app/remember/walter-griffith. In lieu of flowers, soup kitchen donations can be made to Our Community Table, P.O. Box 2017, Westfield, MA 01086, or to his college workplace at Westfield State Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 1630, Westfield, MA 01086-1630 (in the memo on the check, you are asked to write “In memory of Larry Griffith”) or to make a gift online, please visit https://www.westfieldalumni.org/make-a-gift/online-giving-form and in the “Other” drop-down box, please type “In memory of Larry Griffith.”