In Memory of Bill Griffin May 5, 1938 -September 13, 2015
Bill Griffin was a well-known and much loved promoter of Southern Gospel Music in Western Canada. Respected by artists and patrons alike, Griffin and his wife Marg brought the top talent from the US and Canada to enthusiastic audiences in Alberta. Bill Griffin’s sudden death last fall was a blow to many, not the least of which was his close friend from Ontario, Philip Foster. Foster tells the story of Griffin in this poignant essay of the life of a Gospel Music promoter.
I’ve lost a good friend today. To say I was shocked when I received the news, would be an understatement. I’ve had friends die before, and I’m sure there will be more. Bill was as close to God as anyone I know. Both he and his wife Marg have been special friends to Judy and I for many years. Bill loved his wife and children and grandchildren. I joked with him once that I thought he loved his family almost as much as he did Southern Gospel Music.
I remember the first time I met Bill. One of his friends, Carol Elliot, came into the store where I worked as a produce manager. She introduced him to me, saying something to the effect that he loved Southern Gospel (S.G.) music. I remember saying to him, “Do you love S.G. music?” His answer was, “Is the Pope Catholic?”
With a handshake, from that day way back in the ’90’s to present, we became close friends. We went to the National Quartet Convention in Louisville one time. The Cathedral Quartet was on stage, singing one of their songs. The people were clapping along to the beat, including me, and I looked over to Bill. Bill was sitting with his legs crossed, his arms gently resting on the chair and he had the most serious look on his face. I looked over to him and said something to the effect, “Aren’t you excited”? He looked at me with that serious look and said, “I’ve never been so excited in all my life!” That has become one of my favorite things and Bill always laughed when I told someone that story.
Then there was the ‘frog’ story. We were driving in Louisville looking for something and we stopped to ask directions. This distinguished gentleman was walking and we stopped to ask him for directions, explaining we were from Canada and didn’t know where we were going. He said, “Canada, eh?” (sarcastically) and said, “You’re not frogs are you?” referring to Quebec. Bill and I were so stunned by his arrogance and bigotry, we just looked at one another. He finally gave us directions and we drove off laughing and laughed about that for the next 10 years or so, every time we thought of it. Bill sent me a picture frame once with his portrait and the frame had a frog design on it. We visited Marg and Bill one time in Calgary and I took Bill out a giant frog I had found in a novelty store. Every time someone walked by it, it would croak. Now Bill and I thought it was funny, but I think it drove Marg crazy!
We all have friends. Some we call our best friends, or good friends, but sometimes a certain friend stands out from the rest for different reasons. It’s not that you like this person better than any other, it’s just that, this person means so much to you because of his or her God-like personality. Bill was such a person. You probably don’t think of it at the time, but after one loses such a friend, then you do think about it, and realize that you had a very special friend.
When I got the news that my friend had died—-it’s something that I doubt I can ever explain properly to someone. It is like a part of you has died also. You feel the need to tell people about your friend, even though they didn’t know him. Politely they listen, offering whatever comfort they can, but the reality is that politeness doesn’t mask the un-interest you know they feel.
Everyone says the same thing. “It will take some time, it must have been God’s will, God needed him, there is a reason unknown to us, I know how you feel, I’m here for you,” or many other sayings that do nothing to help, but you know that the person meant well.
I doubt there was not a day that went by when I wouldn’t get a text or an email from Bill, about this or that. Sometimes it was just a few words, just something he was thinking about at the time and let you know about it. I could picture him; sitting on his leather lounge chair, typing out an email on his I-phone. Sometimes it made me laugh because it made absolutely no sense, until perhaps days later, when it finally dawned on me what he was talking about, and it made me laugh even more then.
Bill loved Christmas. It was his favorite time of the year. He collected Santas. Drove me nuts with it. He knew that of course, so he would go out of his way to tell me something “Christmassy” as he called it. He spent the years trying to convince me how wonderful Christmas is. It is not my favorite time of the year because of the many years I spent in retail. I remember once he dropped me a short email saying, “Phil, there is only 156 days (or whatever it was) until Christmas, aren’t you excited?” I could picture him on his chair smiling as he sent that text. Of course, I would feign to be annoyed about it. It was part of our game.
The four of us (Marg and Judy) spent many times together. We went camping with them in their trailer. He drove us to Banff and Jasper, and around the area in Alberta. He loved entertaining friends as does his wife. Judy and I drove out to Alberta and spent some time with them.
Bill was a Gospel Music promoter and brought in many top named groups. When we were there last, he held his “Rejoicing in the Rockies” with the Couriers and Legacy Five. We were so glad to be there.
I honestly think part of Bill’s enjoyment was to see the joy on people’s faces. He loved people and loved to do things for folks.
And now, he is gone. I’m having difficulties with this death more than others. Why? The biggest reason for me is all the prayers that went up for Bill. I truly believed he would be healed and there would be a great testimony because of it. Then of course, are all the questions. Why? Why bother praying? Doesn’t Jesus say, “You have not because you ask not?” “Ask and ye shall receive?”
I know that theologians will tell you, that most people take things out of context and what have you. Bill didn’t. He took the Bible literally. If it said this, it meant this. If Jonah was swallowed by a whale, then he was. So many people have to tear things apart looking for some hidden meaning and miss the point entirely. Bill and I talked many times about that. I shall miss chatting with him via email or text.
It’s very difficult when you get into a ‘habit’ of doing things. Like picking up your phone to phone someone, or texting them, or emailing them—and think nothing of it. Something one has done for a million times and then all of a sudden, it’s taken from you. It’s very hard to get used to.
Quite honestly, since Bill’s promotion to Heaven, I’ve actually sat down to send him an email without thinking and then realize I can’t do that anymore.
I found that it made me angry. Do I dare have the right to be angry with God? When pain comes our way it’s natural that we’re angry about it, but we’re often left confused over what to do with that anger. I thought the good Christian thing to do was push those feelings aside as soon as they reared their head, but they refused to go away. Confined to a chair after a knee operation a few years back, I spent many days feeling so furious that I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I would imagine picking up objects and hurling them at the wall but then would immediately feel guilty. When I first tried to shower without help after the operation I completely lost it. I was struggling to balance and put too much weight on my knee replacement, which was excruciating and to top it off I managed to trap my fingers in the shower door. Anger isn’t talked about much in church, but the Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic. The apostle Paul says, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
In other words, he’s saying that the anger isn’t a sin, but hanging on to it is. Solomon said, “Anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9) with the word ‘resides’ indicating he means letting it become a resident rather than a visitor.
In the face of such a tragedy, you can always count on some well-meaning person to quote Romans 8:28–“all things work together for good” and to say that the tragedy is something we just have to accept as part of God’s wonderful plan for us.
As if that were not enough, they’ll imply that God caused what we think is a tragedy in order to achieve some greater good that we, in our limited understanding can’t comprehend. Personally, I can’t accept this kind of talk. It’s making God the Author of sickness and death. That transforms God into someone who is difficult to love.
I know a man who is one of the leaders in a local church. He told me at a breakfast one time, that he does not pray for the terminally ill anymore, as it is a waste of time. That made me upset to say the least. Is this kind of mentality in our churches now? Honestly, I do not understand why God chooses to heal some and not others. Paul the apostle was used mightily to heal people, and yet his own affliction stayed with him.
One of my favorite quotes is by Mother Teresa. When asked what she is going to ask God, when she dies she said, “I’m going to say to him, ‘You have a lot of explaining to do.’”
I never once saw Bill angry or mad or even upset. Now he would email me from time to time about something that was bothering him, and we would discuss it, and once he heard my INCREDIBLE wisdom, the problem would be solved. He would often write back later, stating that my cheque was in the mail for my advice. If one did not know Bill as I did, you would not get the play sarcasm he was hurling my way. That, among other things, is one of the things I will most certainly miss. Seriously, things did bother Bill, but he would always seek for the answer in the Bible.
I shall miss our talks. Bill used to run. He would do marathons. I remember once in a horrible motel we had booked, Bill went out for a run. It was hot out and I worried about him as he was gone for a long time. Finally, he came in the room, his face as red as a beet, sweat pouring off him. He looked like he could collapse at any moment. I said, “My word Bill, are you ok?” He smiled and said, “I never felt better in my life.” That was Bill.
On the same trip I think it was, we were getting ready to drive back to Peterborough, Ontario. We went outside and the vehicle Bill rented had the driver’s side window smashed out of it! Many other cars in the lot had the same thing. After the police were finished with their ‘investigation’ we started back. Poor Bill had to drive all that distance, back to Peterborough, through rain, wind, cars passing him and spraying up more water, and never once did he complain. A little thing like that spoke volumes to me. I confess, I laughed out loud a couple of times, until he asked me if I wanted to drive!
When someone you love dies, you never quite get over it. You just slowly learn how to go on without them, but always keeping them tucked safely in your heart. Bill is gone now, and rejoicing in Heaven. If we did not have the hope of seeing our friends and loved ones again well, I can’t imagine the emptiness one would feel. However, the truth is, I SHALL see him again and I’m sure Bill is already promoting concerts up in Glory. I have no idea if that kind of thing would happen of course, but it makes one happy to think that way. Farewell my friend. I Miss you but I WILL see you again, in that “Great, Gettin’-up Morning!”
For more features by Phil Foster, also refer to the SGNSCOOPS website.