On the first Sunday in August, many villagers can usually be found milling about the annual Quogue Fire Department Open House, though few were easier to spot than Harvey Griffing.Stationed behind the raw bar, he would spend hours doing three things: shuck, serve and repeat.
In fact, family members and fellow volunteer firefighters said Mr. Griffing worked at more open houses than they could even recall.
“He wouldn’t miss open house,” said Cliff McKennett, a 35-year member of the fire department. “He was there at the table, because everybody knew and looked for him at the open house. He was a fixture at the clam bar.”
“If anybody had clams on the half shell at our open house, chances are Harvey was the guy that set it up for them,” 3rd Assistant Chief Chris Osborne added.
A resident of East Quogue and a 45-year member of the Quogue Fire Department, Mr. Griffing died last Thursday, November 14, from kidney disease at the age of 78, according to his son Robert Griffing.
A lifelong resident of Southampton Town, the late Mr. Griffing leaves behind a legacy not only as a dedicated volunteer firefighter but also as father, grandfather and brother who possessed a good sense of humor and a generous heart, not to mention a formidable sense of determination.
The son of Harvey V. and Sylvia Griffing, Harvey L. Griffing, better known as “Griff,” was born on March 7, 1935, inside the Eastport home his father built with second-hand lumber. Mr. Griffing graduated from Eastport High School despite, by his own estimation, missing at least half of his senior year.
“He would be playing hookey,” Robert Griffing said of his father. “He missed so many days of school that his father would drive him to school, drop him off in front of the school. He would walk in the front door, then walk right out the back so he could go fishing.”
Growing up about half a mile from Moriches Bay, Mr. Griffing developed an affinity for the sea, perhaps explaining why he designated himself Quogue Fire Department’s unofficial clam shucker years later, according to Robert Griffing.
Harvey Griffing married Carolyn Widmeyer on New Year’s Eve in 1958. They moved to East Quogue a few years later, where the couple raised their three children and operated a duck farm for 30 years, raising pekin and muscovy ducks. Mr. Griffing also worked as a plumber servicing those in Quogue, East Quogue and Westhampton.
Robert Griffing still recalls accompanying his dad on the job, playing with plumber putty as his father repaired pipes and winterized houses. He also has many memories of raising ducks, including one brood of 15 chicks. “Some of my fondest memories of life with my father center around raising ducks at our family home in East Quogue,” he wrote in an email. “Whenever I see a duck, I think of my dad.”
Robert Griffing and his family have lived in the Eastport home in which his father was born since buying it from him in 1998.
Around the Quogue firehouse, Harvey Griffing was known for his various quirks, which included his signature greeting of “Hey, bub,” and his tendency to bring in assorted trinkets from his collection of novelties, Mr. McKennett said. The items he shared ranged from little knick-knacks to the obscure, such as show knives and a World War II-era disposable gun.
Mr. McKennett said Mr. Griffing’s impromptu show-and-tell presentations will be missed around the firehouse as will his reliable, albeit sometimes corny, arsenal of jokes and stories.
Friends and family said Mr. Griffing was defined by his grit and determination, particularly toward the end of his life. In 2010, he went into remission after battling colon cancer for years and staved off lymphoma for more than a year after being diagnosed in the summer of 2012.
“He was an honest guy, hardworking, loved his family and he persevered through anything,” Robert Griffing said. “Always looked at the positive side and said, ‘Whatever it is, we’ll get through it.’”
Despite his ailments, Mr. Griffing continued to attend meetings held by the fire department and the fire police, the latter being the branch he spent much of the last decade with. Mr. McKennett said anyone who gave Mr. Griffing a ride to a meeting knew not to try helping him into a car because he was set on getting himself in, even if he had to crawl to do it.
“He was very determined, I don’t want to use stubborn because that’s too negative, but strong willed,” Mr. McKennett said. “And it was never, ‘Poor pitiful me.’”
Quogue Fire Chief Timothy Shea said Mr. Griffing was passionate about the department and even attended a party held at the firehouse as recently as a few weeks before his death. “He was a guy that was never going to complain, always had a smile on his face,” Chief Shea said. “A real man’s man.”
On May 4, the Town of Southampton, in conjunction with the fire department, presented Mr. Griffing with a proclamation in recognition of his 45 years of volunteer service.
Mr. Griffing was predeceased by his wife, Carolyn Widmeyer Griffing, who died on January 11, 2012.
He is survived by his daughter, Kelly Griffing of East Quogue, and two sons, William Griffing of Hampton Bays, and Robert Griffing along with his wife Claudia and their daughter Anika. He also leaves behind two sisters, Shirley Zeneski of Speonk and Joyce Stephens of Port Orford, Oregon.
Funeral services took place on Sunday and Monday, though condolences can still be sent to the Follett and Werner Funeral Home, 60 Mill Road in Westhampton Beach. Mr. Griffing will be laid to rest next to his wife in the Eastport Cemetery, located behind the Eastport Bible Church on Montauk Highway.