In Memoriam: Robert Griffith

by State Senator Jamie Raskin
Special to the Voice

On January 25, our community lost a resplendent human being in Robert Griffith, a distinguished professor of history at American University and chairman of the history department. 

Bob had a disarming sweetness about him that was combined with a formidable intellectual toughness.  I never heard him utter a harsh word about anyone, but I also never saw him lose an argument. He radiated decency and integrity in every pore.


Bob was a cherished friend and a proud citizen of Takoma Park. I first
met him when he came to American University as provost in 1995.  He had
been dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of
Maryland at College Park where he dramatically increased the presence of
women and minorities on the faculty and worked out a new core

As provost at AU, Bob brought the same progressive
changes, enlarging the presence of minorities and women on the faculty
and successfully improving the school’s academic offerings and
standing.   After several years in that job he returned to teaching,
which he missed sharply.

He was already famous as an historian of
Cold War politics and had written a luminous book on Joe McCarthy, “The
Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate,” which won the
Frederick Jackson Turner Prize of the Organization of American

Bob and his wife Barbara were present at the very
first meeting of my 2006 State Senate campaign.  At that meeting, he
gave me the best advice I ever got about speaking in public as a
candidate: “Don’t try to sound like a politician,” he said. “Just speak
in your own voice.” I will never forget that moment. 

As an
astute student of politics, Bob was full of advice for me, but he also
hit the ground repeatedly on my behalf, knocking on doors and persuading
his many friends and neighbors.  His energy was magnificent.
When I
announced for reelection last year, Bob called up to offer his help
again and I asked him whether he would put a bumper sticker on his car. 
“I don’t need to,” he said. “I still have the original one.  The secret
to success in politics is hanging on to the magic of the beginning.”

abundant wisdom and love for the world will always be treasured by his
friends and colleagues, who are everywhere from his native Georgia to
Wisconsin where he studied.  Meantime, Bob’s admirers here in  Silver
Spring and Takoma Park mourn his loss and extend sympathies to his
beloved Barbara and two sons and several grandchildren.

A memorial service at American University is scheduled for Saturday, February 12 at 1:00 pm at the Kay Spiritual Life Center.

2 Comments on "In Memoriam: Robert Griffith"

  1. Matthew Griffith | February 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm |

    R.I.P Dad we love you.

  2. What a nice tribute, thank you for sharing his life with those of us who didn’t know him.

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