A Tribute to One of Our Own
Many people have high ideals and audacious dreams, many others have a solid work ethic. There is perhaps no one who put the two together better than South Buffaloâ€™s John Granville. Heâ€™s been described as an â€śidealist and realistâ€ť without a hint of contradiction.
He was assassinated within the first hours of this year in Sudan. As international coverage of his death continues, the spotlight is turned not just on what he accomplished but on John as a person. He was a work-study student at Canisius High School (Class of 93) who took on extra jobs during breaks. He was, by every account, an exceptional son and brother. As a parent, I could not imagine gathering the grace and strength his mother showed on CNN. While his heart stayed close to home, he carried out his greater ideals on the world stage and made an impact every day.
Itâ€™s not surprising that his family immediately asked that memorial contributions fund a scholarship in his name at Canisius High School. Not a bench or tree, his mother said, but a scholarship that could help hardworking Buffalo guys like John continue his quest for a better world. The schoolâ€™s hope is that the fund might help two students each year; one local student and one from Africa. Itâ€™s an audacious goal â€“ just the kind John would have appreciated.
Google Johnâ€™s name today and youâ€™ll see a broad portrait of his life and work. None is perhaps as beautiful and inspired as that delivered at Johnâ€™s funeral in Orchard Park earlier this week by his friend AndrĂ©-Guy Soh.
IN HONOR OF MY DEAR FRIEND JOHN M. GRANVILLE
On behalf of the Chief of Bamendjou, of all the students of Bamendjou High School where John taught for 2 years, of the student body at the Ecole Primaire Bilingue (bilingual elementary school) that John supported and funded for the last 10 years, I would like to extend my sincerest condolences to Jane, Katie, johnâ€™s nieces and nephews, as well as his entire family and friends here in Buffalo and in the world.
John was an American who became an African, a Cameroonian, and more importantly, a respected BamilĂ©kĂ© whose work in my village earned him the title Ndeffo Soh (Royal Soldier).
The BamilĂ©kĂ© are one of the 250 or so tribes that make up the small nation of Cameroon. For those who have lived amongst the BamilĂ©kĂ© people, you know if there is a meal for one, there is a meal for all. If there is a roof for one, there is a roof for all. These are the core beliefs that make us what and who we are, proud BamilĂ©kĂ©. Because of his upbringing, John identified with these attributes from the first day he arrived in Bamendjou as a young Education Volunteer. These BamilĂ©kĂ© values strengthened his belief in fairness, family and justice.
John was not the typical Westerner who comes to Africa to experience the weirdness, the edginess, the funkiness of our cultures. John did not stand from a distance to watch us. John was with us. He was one of us. John was an African and a BamilĂ©kĂ© in the full sense of the word. He spoke our language, which was a challenge; ate our food, which sometimes required a humongous amount of courage, observed and practiced our traditions, respected our ways, and worked with us, even when he disagreed with us.
John was a cultural sponge everywhere he went. He listened to people and tried to make sense of their stories. He dug deep in their histories, beliefs, and traditions to make sense of their actions and attitudes. Where the typical Westerner or American would say â€śThese people are crazy,â€ť John would give you a detailed, sophisticated explanation of why they do what they do. He was a listener. He always, always placed himself in the shoes of the people he worked and lived with. He tried to see the world through their eyes, through their personal experiences.
Itâ€™s only when I moved to the US in 2001 that I realized how hard it can be for an American to survive in Africa. John made it seem so easy. He found creative ways to stay calm, and always found the positive in any situation. His motto was: Nothing works in Cameroon, but everything always works out. There is no electricity, so what? A candle can take you a long way.
John would sit in jam packed broken down Toyotas with un-cushioned metal plates that served as seats for hours without a single complaint. One particular event comes to mind. On a business trip in the southwest province in 2000, nine of us were sitting in a Toyota corolla. The driver had squeezed six of us in the back seat. Among us was a very pregnant lady. John turned to me, completely puzzled and said, â€śOh my God AndrĂ©, this woman is going to give birth in this car.â€ť He got up, turned around and squeezed his butt between the driver and the passenger seat to relieve some of the stress off the pregnant ladyâ€™s thighs. He rode in that position for roughly two hours. When the position became unbearable, he squeezed himself back in his normal seat and asked the pregnant womanâ€™s young son to sit on his lap. He carried the young boy for the last two hours of the trip. When we arrived in Nguti (South West Province), John seriously could not move. He could not feel his legs, but kept telling me â€śEverything will work out,â€ť and everything did work out. The driver and I massaged both legs for about 20 minutes and he was up and running to catch our business meeting. True story!
This second story is another example of his selflessness. In 2000 after John had returned to the US, Etienne, one of Johnâ€™s best BamilĂ©kĂ© friends, fell seriously ill. John got an email from Etienne basically telling John goodbye. There were no clear indications of what was happening, from what he was dying of, or what was being done to help him. But it appeared clear to John that Etienne needed a kidney. He asked me to contact the family, the doctor, and told me he was ready to make the trip to Cameroon and offer his kidney, if that could save Etienne. These are just two of the many examples of how John gave the best of himself to everyone he met. It was later revealed that Etienne did not need a kidney, but was suffering from another condition; he is doing well today.
John had a sophisticated understanding of politics in Africa. He understood more than anyone how dire the situation is and continues to be for millions of young people in Cameroon and elsewhere on the continent. We spoke at length of ways to end poverty, unemployment, and the uncontrolled spread of diseases. John knew the cards were stacked against us, and unlike some who believe only violence can make corrupt leaders pay attention; John thought providing opportunities and building skills were the best paths to follow. He thought enabling people to stand on their own two feet, make a living on their own, and attain quality education, were the best ways to combat the corrupt political system. I think itâ€™s why he got involved in the peace process in Sudan. John was a unique diplomat. He was humble. He was of the breed of diplomats that America should cherish and revere.
John entered my life in 1997 when I was a poor, frustrated, and disoriented young Cameroonian and was my best friend for the last 10 years. I met him for the first time at a meeting at the high school of Bamendjou. After the meeting he approached me and told me that my suggestions at the meeting were very thoughtful. It was the first time in 27 years that someone had complimented me. Later that same week, we met over a few beers. He found out more about me and when he I realized what my living conditions were, he asked me to share the house that Peace Corps had rented for him. I was barely making $50 per month and life was difficult, so when John made this suggestion, it was a no brainer and I immediately moved in. That was the beginning of a long relation that has lasted for 10 years. He helped me improve my English, encouraged me to learn Windows and other Microsoft programs, and to learn how to type. He did not stop there though, he helped me secure a position as a language and cross cultural trainer with Peace Corps in YaoundĂ©; which required I stay in a hotel for the first time! We later collaborated on several projects and even started a business together.
I spoke to John only two days before his untimely death. This was a devastating loss for me, my family, John's family, and the world. Within the last three weeks, John helped me secure a position in Southern Sudan and I leave in one week. This is the best way for me to continue Johnâ€™s work and foster peace and development on my continent. Sadly, the world, my friends, have lost a shining star and it's now a darker place without John here, but his legacy lives on.
One thing that I've realized through this is that I really take my friends for granted and assume that they will always be there. I wish I had sent a handwritten letter to John telling him how much I loved him and what he meant to me. I know he knew it, but I should have expressed it more concretely. So, I want all of you to consider how you treat your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances--and ask yourself if you are being the best friend, neighbor, spouse, parent you can be.
Thatâ€™s how I will end this statement. Thank You.â€ť
Johnâ€™s work extended far beyond our backyard. Please consider emailing this story to those you know who may share and appreciate his spirit. Memorial contributions may be sent to: The John M. Granville â€™93 Memorial Scholarship, Canisius High School, 1180 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14209-1494.