This is the eulogy my brother gave for my recently deceased Grampa Lenny. His obituary is here from the Worcester Telegram.
My grandfather’s name was Leonard Gribbons. But only his elementary school teachers and telemarketers called him Leonard. He was Lenny. If anyone lived life to its fullest, it was Grampa Lenny.
Over his 34,702 days he was twice a loving husband. He was a dad, an uncle, a grampa, a great grampa, a good friend. He was a security guard, a prison guard, a soldier, a police officer. He was a champion boxer, a prize winning marksman, a Boy Scout leader, a basement dance instructor, a hunter, a fisherman, an amateur photographer.
Nearly all of his life was devoted to public service. As a police officer he was a friend of the bartenders on Millbury Street when he was walking the beat. He brilliantly prevented ugly protests during the Vietnam War. He practiced community policing before it became known as that. He ran the records bureau, the motor pool and helped the department move into its new headquarters.
When he retired, his work seemed to increase. He served as the secretary, treasurer and presidents of many organizations – sometimes serving different roles simultaneously. He published their newsletters and audited their books.
But his remarkable biography is not what made him special. It was not what he did during his life but how he lived that we’ll all remember.
He was generous and always put others needs before his. He never stopped helping his children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. On a policeman’s pay and working special duty assignments, he helped put Len and Tom through college and his Eileen through nursing school.
He always overpaid anyone who helped him around the yard or around the house. After snow storms he would take his snow blower up and down Ararat street and Delaval Road clearing sidewalks and driveways. Every week he brought the coffee and cookies to the Greendale Y and never asked for help.
As a young man he was mischievous. In grade school, he’d pick the cooties from the student sitting in front of him and with great dramatic flare, drown the insect in his ink well while his classmates howled. He’d hide in the woods off Providence Street and shoot bb’s at the lunch pails of the wire mill workers walking home after their shifts. He spent a few nights avoiding punishment by hiding from his father in the basement coal bin.
He was a practical joker. When my dad came to pick up my mom for their first date, Grampa Lenny casually greeted him with his service revolver.
He loved to tell stories. He loved to perform. In the army, he was the clown, the guy poking fun at officers, getting in trouble but boosting morale. During the war, he performed on stage for soldiers in France, bringing down the house with his act, even catching the eye of a Hollywood or Broadway agent. But he never considered that life. He sang songs at Len’s Vernon Hill birthday parties.
And he played the bugle. He was the phantom bugler at National Guard and army bases. His revelry called his brothers and hunting buddies from the woods. Not everyone enjoyed his playing. There was they guy who lost a prize deer because of Lenny’s revelry. And one time he used his bugle to get rid of hundreds of birds perched in the big oak tree in his back yard. He scared them off but they covered him with so many droppings that my grandmother would not let him in the house.
But he also used his bugle to play taps so mournfully at a funeral that the priest said his playing did more to help the grieving family heal than any words spoken at the service.
He loved to see his name and picture in the paper. Once after arresting a most wanted bank robber, he was driving the suspect back to Waldo Street. But he took the long way. When the rookie in his cruiser asked him what he was doing, he said he wanted to give the photographer from the Telegram, who was listening to the police radio, time to get to the station. The next day, there was Sergeant Leonard Gribbons and his prisoner on the front page, above the fold.
He loved to have a good time He and my grandmother hosted so many parties in their basement it became known as the L and M club. He loved to dance, in his basement, at parties and especially at weddings. If he was at your wedding, no doubt your wedding album has a picture of Lenny dancing.
You would never know that this man suffered more grief in his life than he deserved, grief that would bring him to his knees. But he always lifted himself up and not only carried on but lived life so joyously than he spread joy to those around him.
Grampa Lenny had his quirks. He loved to keep records – on index cards or in little note books. He tracked the mileage to the Berkshires, the number of miles back. He tracked the mileage to John and Millie’s house, the number of miles back. He noted how many beers he drank at a party. He recorded his bodily functions, the bodily functions of his pets.
He was a perfectionist. He would say perfectionists do good work, but seldom finish. That’s why it took him 50 years to paint his house.
He put dates on everything – canned vegetables, light bulbs, batteries, his boxer shorts.
These little idiosyncrasies made Lenny unique, but what made him special was his devotion to his country, his community, his faith, his family and friends.
He cared deeply for his sons and daughter, his 7 brothers, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He made friends wherever he went and had dozens of adopted children and grandchildren.
His first love was Ann who was taken from him too soon. Recently I stumbled upon some pictures of him and Ann when they were dating or just married and you could see they were truly happy, truly in love.
He spent 50 years with Maisy. They were soul mates and could talk for hours, granted he did most of the talking. During the war, he wrote letter after letter to her. When she got sick, he went to her nursing home every day. When she was gone, he missed her terribly.
He left behind a symbol of his love for May. Before bed he would lift her picture off her dresser and kiss her good night. His hands were so bad that when he was putting it back, the metal frame would slip, and a corner would hit the dresser. Today when you pull back the linen on that dresser you’ll find hundreds of tiny marks, a circle of little indentations left by the corner of that frame, like a tiny woodpecker would leave. It’s a symbol of his love and loneliness later in life.
Grampa Lenny was not perfect. He had deep regrets, regrets that troubled him through much of his life. He made mistakes he wished could have been undone. And in his later years, he tried to correct them.
Even in his last few years, at Holy Trinity, while it was tough to see him like that, he was a joy to be with. He couldn’t talk, but he’d give you a wink or a little wave. He’d dance a little jig in his wheel chair.
The last couple years cemented Lenny’s legacy. All those years of helping others taught them how to help him. So many of his friends visited him. Donald and his family – especially Francis, Sue Marc, Jessica and Ann were among his most faithful visitors. And. no one was more devoted than Tom. Underneath that serious military, high school principal façade is the caregiver who each night gently shaved his father’s beard and combed his hair.
So goodbye, Gramp. We’ll miss you terribly. But everyone in this church is a better person for having shared life with you.