Posted on: January 12, 2021
Walter Chapin Griggs, M.D. died on December 1, 2020, aged 96 years. He was born on June 30, 1924, the second son of Elsie and Charles Wesley Griggs of Albany, NY. A resident at the Kendal at Hanover retirement community during his final years, he was a long-time resident of the Upper Valley, having moved to Norwich, VT in 1962 and, later, to Hanover, NH.
Dr. Griggs, or “Walt” to his friends, was a supportive husband and father, an eye surgeon and clinician, Captain in the U.S. Navy, cat-lover, and friend to all. His dry humor and infectious smile are warmly remembered by all who knew him, and he always had a good word for old friends and colleagues as well as new acquaintances. He was deeply interested in others, and appreciated their accomplishments considerably more than his own, which were significant.
Walter attended Milne High School in Albany and Yale College, New Haven, CT, enrolling in the U.S. Naval Reserve there before seeing active duty during WWII as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of a landing ship (USS LCI(L)-866) in the Western and Southwestern Pacific. He was awarded the American Theatre Medal and World War II Victory Medal. Following the completion of his Navy duties he completed his B.S. at Yale, graduating in 1948 as part of Yale’s largest graduating class, 1945W. That same year he entered the University of Rochester Medical School class of 1952. He was introduced to his first wife, Shirley Jean Kelly by their mutual friend, Bob Ostrander, while they pursued nursing and medical studies, and were married April 8, 1950 at Peekskill Presbyterian Church, Peekskill, NY. Following an internship and residency at University of Virginia Hospital, in 1954 Dr. Griggs entered general practice as Plantation Physician for the Hamakua Mill Company in Pa’auilo, a rural district on the island of Hawaii, Territory of Hawaii. He had a clinical staff appointment at the Laupahoehoe Sugar Company Hospital (1954-56), as well as clinical and courtesy staff appointments at Honaka’a Hospital (1956-59) and Hilo Memorial Hospital (1956-59).
From May of 1959 to April 1962, Dr. Griggs returned to the East Coast to pursue an Ophthalmology Fellowship at the Institute of Ophthalmology (now the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute) of the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Following his residency in Ophthalmology there, in 1962 he was offered a position at the Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital where he spent the bulk of his remaining long career. In addition to his clinical staff position, Dr. Griggs was Clinical Instructor in Surgery (Ophthalmology), and later Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery (Ophthalmology) at Dartmouth Medical School, attending and consulting staff at the U.S. Veterans Administration Hospital in White River Junction, VT, courtesy staff at Mount Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor, VT, and clinical staff at Ottauquechee Health Center in Woodstock, VT.
Dr. Griggs was chairman of the Ophthalmology sections of Hitchcock Clinic and Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital 1968-73, and of the Ophthalmology section of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center 1973-81.
Retired from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Dr. Griggs left the Upper Valley to become Screening Clinic Chief at King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from March 1990 to March 1991. The Gulf War coincided with his time in Riyadh, providing some interesting background to his work there.
In association with his long medical career, Dr. Griggs was involved with a number of medical associations, with leadership positions including president of the Grafton County Medical Society (1972-73), chair of the New Hampshire Medical Society Education Section (1971), incorporator of the New Hampshire Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, and president (1975-77). He was a member of the New England Ophthalmological Society Program Committee (1978-87) and also contributed to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Ocular Microbiology and Immunology Group, Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, International Association for the Prevention of Blindness, Helen Keller International, and others.
Dr. Griggs was active in the U.S. Naval Reserve between 1959 and 1984, participating primarily in weekend drills and active duty training. He also enjoyed assignments at the U.S. Naval Reserve base at Jacksonville, FL and aboard the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Kennedy (CVA-67) during a tour of the Mediterranean. Other affiliations and activities include being treasurer of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Pa’auilo, HI (1957-58), member of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church vestry, and senior warden (1972-73), incorporator, coach and past president of the Hanover Swim Team, Norwich VT Boy Scouts of America troop committee chairman, faculty advisor to the Heorot fraternity at Dartmouth College, Yale Alumni Schools committee, and secretary of the Yale Club of Vermont (1978-79).
Dr. Griggs had four sons, Thomas Chapin Griggs (Ann) of Morgantown, WV, Peter Wesley Griggs (Sydney Smith) of Norwich, VT, James (Kimo) Safford Griggs (Abigail Crossen) of Seattle, WA, and Kelly Chapin Griggs (Dianne) of Norwich, VT. Elsie Doherty (née Tanaka) later joined the family in Hawaii, as did David (Jane) and Daniel Kim after the family had moved to Norwich, VT. Following a divorce, Dr. Griggs married Louise McGregor Solmssen in 1980 in Isle La Motte, VT. They divided their time between homes in Hanover and Isle La Motte.
Dr. Griggs was well-recognized and popular in the small, tight Upper-Valley community where a significant number of residents knew him as their eye doctor. His sons often compared notes on their encounters with people they had met or had business with, as the Griggs name frequently provoked the question, “Are you one of Dr. Griggs’ boys?” It was typically followed by, “He’s just wonderful!” A trip to Michael’s Radio in Hanover or a local automotive garage invariably ended with, “say hi to Walt!”. He loved his work and was a multi-tasker before the term was popularized. It was not unusual to find him using his ophthalmic penlight to read articles and reports during concerts and films. He loved jazz – Dixieland in particular – and his love for words was evident at the dinner table, where arguments on usage were settled when he availed himself of the large, comprehensive dictionary he kept on the table behind his chair. He had a great interest in stereo equipment, transistor radios, magnifying devices, vintage medical equipment, and multi-purpose tools. One particular find – a combination clock radio, telephone, and toilet-paper holder functioned as the family fruit cake, appearing under many Christmas trees as it was transferred from one family member to another without ever being opened.
He is survived by his first wife and their four sons, Elsie Doherty (James), Daniel Kim, and four appreciative step-children, Meg Lin (Steve) of Honolulu, HI, Hans Solmssen of Verbier, Switzerland, Lisa Browning (Philip) of Honolulu, HI, and Jennifer Solmssen (Glenise McKenzie) of Portland, OR. His brother-in-law David McGregor (Barbara) also survives, as do 20 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Dr. Griggs’ older brother Charles predeceased him in 1993, as did David Kim in 2014.
Dr. Griggs was also predeceased by his second wife, Louise Solmssen Griggs, for whom he was the primary caregiver during the long illness that led to her death in November 2019. His devotion to Louise was deep and noteworthy.
Dad will be greatly missed. His family extends their deepest gratitude to the Kendal Community, particularly the medical team that took such wonderful care of him.
Arrangements are under the direction of the Rand-Wilson Funeral Home in Hanover, NH. Services will be held next summer.
Contributions in his memory may be directed to:
Walter Griggs Lecture/Education Fund (D-H/Geisel Office of Development One Medical Center Drive, HB 7070 Lebanon, NH 03756)
Upper Valley Humane Society( PO Box 789 Lebanon, NH 03766)