Bill Griffen

A Life Lived Passionately Pursuing Justice and Peace

Bill (front left) rarely missed the annual Hiroshima Day commemoration, often inspiring us with his words at the vigil. August 6, 2004. Photo: Paul Pearce

On February 16, 2007, educator/activist and Peace Council stalwart Bill Griffen passed away following an 11-year battle with cancer. Bill's commitment, clarity of thought and willingness to stand up for his beliefs will be sorely missed here in Syracuse, in Cortland, where he taught for 50 years, and far beyond.

Bill served in the Army stateside during the Korean War after which he completed college and began teaching. His life/teaching took a dramatic turn in 1963 after one of his graduate students, Bill Moore, was murdered in Alabama while supporting civil rights. Inspired by his student's conviction, Bill became active in the civil rights movement, working in dangerous conditions in Tennessee during the summers of 1964 and 1965.

His work in the south began a lifelong commitment to peace, a protected environment and social justice. Bill worked for progressive change in many ways - through teaching, writing, community education, pressuring elected officials, legal demonstrations, running for Congress (1968 and 1990) and engaging in non-violent civil disobedience (approximately 40 arrests). Being a peace and social justice activist as long as Bill had been can make a person tired and cynical. But Bill never stopped and never lost hope. For me he was the personification of positive life force. His zest for music, baseball, family and peace and social justice were infectious. He was an agent of change, a teacher, and always ready to speak, write and act. Being with him made me feel like anything was possible.

It is hard to imagine someone so vital being gone. But his spirit lives on in us and pushes us to continue the joyful, challenging, maddening work of making peace instead of war, protecting the environment and creating a world where human need is placed above monetary profit. Thank you, Bill, for what you've done, who you were, and the good you've left behind.

-Carol Baum


It really is shocking to learn of Bill's death. What a loss not only for his family but also for us. I knew him from back in the Viet Nam days, and what a powerful and straight thinker he was. He was a great leader as far as I am concerned and I valued his opinions and thoughts whenever we spoke. I sorely miss him.

-John D. Brule


Bill and I were classmates at Cortland so many years ago. Bill was always a free spirit. He was a great musician and drummer and always there where he could do good. While the Iraq Peace Team was in Baghdad, Bill took the time and effort to gather many parts for musical instruments that were badly needed by the musicians of the Iraq National Symphony Orchestra. Bill knew well that music is our international language and that it cannot be sanctioned.

-Cynthia Banas

On June 21, 2005, Bill was set to throw out the first ball at a Syracuse SkyChiefs baseball game as part of SPC’s participation in United Methodist Night at the ballpark. In the face of right-wing pressure, the SkyChiefs pulled the plug. Bill (with glove), his daughter Amy, Carol Baum of SPC (with sign) and wife Judy participated in a news conference outside the stadium condemning this abridgement of free speech. Photo: Andy Mager

I had the privilege of working with Bill over a 25 year period. I've seen Bill educating Air Force police as they arrested us at Griffiss Air Force Base. I've heard Bill's efforts to educate fellow activists about the importance of nonviolence - both morally and practically. I've watched Bill respectfully interact with counterprotesters, listening to their perspectives while gently encouraging them to see things differently. I've experienced Bill's attempts to edify Judges about the applicability of international law to us as citizens of the most powerful nation in the history of the planet.

One particular memory of Bill was during a public hearing in the early 1990s as part of the movement to prevent the creation of a low level radioactive waste dump in rural Cortland County. While others spoke passionately about the way such a dump would disrupt our lives, as always, Bill looked at the larger picture and told Governor Mario Cuomo: "when the bathtub is overflowing the first thing you need to do is shut off the tap, not look for additional places to move the water."

-Andy Mager

More about Bill Griffen

Saturday, March 31 at 1 pm

Center for the Arts, 72 Main St., Homer, NY

Contact SPC for carpooling from Syracuse

Bill’s family asks that monetary memorials in his honor be made to SPC, 924 Burnet Ave., Syracuse, NY 13203.

Additional tributes and articles about Bill Griffen