Sporting a stuffed velvet chicken hat-one of his 86 signature toppers-and a smudge of lipstick on his cheek, Charlie Griffin JD '32 merrily strolls the halls of Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire. A constant chorus of women's voices greets the popular centenarian volunteer with "Hello, Charlie!" as Griffin spends the next five hours pulling his walker bedside to check on his regular patients, sending cheerful messages and departing with an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Seventy-five years ago, Griffin wielded that thumb quite differently, using it to hitchhike from Portsmouth to Boston when he could not afford the train to get to class at Suffolk Law. Griffin, the school's oldest living alumnus, entered the law school straight out of high school at a time when undergraduate degrees were not required for admission.
Griffin's foray into law came at an inopportune time. "It was in the midst of the Great Depression, and it was lousy," he recalls. "For my first whole year, my gross income was $600!" But Griffin persevered, establishing a solo practice that thrived in his hometown of Portsmouth for more than 50 years.
It was 12 years ago that Griffin found his second calling. After his wife passed away from a long illness, he pulled himself out of retirement and became a volunteer at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, the facility that had tended to his wife off and on for several years. "They gave her such good care that I felt I should repay it," Griffin says. He began logging four-to-five-hour days, five days a week, walking the halls and offering wellwishes to patients. Griffin estimates that he has logged more than 12,000 volunteer hours total.
Of the more than 200,000 people Griffin has visited during his tenure, one of his first patients lingers in his memory.
"She couldn't walk. She couldn't talk. She couldn't eat. She couldn't drink," Griffin says, recalling how he held the woman's hand every day. "And, lo and behold, one day she returned the shaking of my hand. And after a while she got to the point that she would recognize me as being Charlie."
The woman eventually made a full recovery and continues to stay in touch with Griffin to this day. "She is my prized patient," he says proudly.
Griffin's goofy hat aesthetic began as a lark 10 years ago when someone at the hospital gave him a silly hat as a present. Soon more and more friends and patients were gifting him odd-looking chapeaus; today, Griffin boasts an impressive arsenal of jester caps, crazy top hats, huge foam cowboy hats, a red-and-white striped Dr. Seuss hat, and even a hat made out of a plastic bed pan-a joke gift from the hospital staff.
Griffin's volunteering efforts have earned him a roster of accolades, including the Rotary Club's Spirit of Life Award, numerous Catholic Charities honors, and the 2006 Frist Humanitarian Award for philanthropic work.
Asked what he wished for at his century-mark November birthday bash, Griffin peeks up from beneath his velvety brim. "I just wish that I can have good health so I can continue to comfort people in the hospital," he says.
- Jeannie Greeley
ALUMNI PROFILESPaul Cherecwich Jr.