Berry College is saddened to announce the passing of J. Barry Griswell, chair of the Berry College Board of Trustees. 

A towering presence both literally and figuratively, this 6-foot-9 Berry College Viking basketball alumnus served his alma mater with uncommon distinction during his 17 years as a trustee, the last four as chair. 

“His legacy is one of great progress in advancing the mission of the college, but his true impact here and elsewhere is measured in lives touched,” said Berry President Steve Briggs. 

His story was a Berry story, as told in his book “The Adversity Paradox” (2009). Griswell came from a broken home headed by a single mother who worked two jobs and endured abusive marriages. He credits the Joseph B. Whitehead Boys Club of Atlanta as saving him. He met his future wife and graduated from Atlanta’s Walter F. George High School – as a 6’9” star basketball player. They both earned scholarships to Berry changing his trajectory. 

He rose from humble beginnings to great heights, including serving as CEO and chair of Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, Iowa. His career success was matched by his passion for service, as evidenced by his sustained work on behalf of the United Way and many other organizations, Berry among them. 

Barry and Michele, with other members of their church, helped found The Harvest Initiative, an endeavor to bring economic development to the people of Crow Creek County in South Dakota. He has also served as chair of Scholarship America. His many honors and distinctions included the Horatio Alger Distinguished American Award, the Berry Alumni Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award and induction into the Boys and Girls Clubs Alumni Hall of Fame. He was a 1971 graduate of Berry. 

Griswell, who died June 5, is survived by his wife, Michele (a 1970 alum), his dedicated partner in service and in life since first meeting in high school more than 50 years ago, sons John and Michael, John’s wife Abigail, two granddaughters, three brothers, and a number of nieces and nephews, several of whom attended Berry College. 

“We will long remember Barry’s keen insight, wise counsel, impeccable character, quick-witted humor and fun-loving spirit, witnessed most recently when he joined me in donning overalls and straw hats for a short video meant to open this spring’s Scholarship Night celebration. 

“We will cherish the example he set through his steadfast loyalty and support of Berry and our students. He was often touched by the stories and potential of individuals he met and would act quietly and directly to make a difference. His investment wasn’t just one of money or resources, but also time. As recently as Wednesday, he was on a video call with other trustees, discussing passionately the future of the college he loved so much,” Briggs said.

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