“Raymond’s signature is all over this town,” said Earnestine Mobley.
Mobley was talking about her brother, the late Raymond Griggs, who passed away June 2 at age 73 after a battle with cancer. Griggs was a woodworker, who she said “loved on wood like he was having a love affair with it.” She didn’t just mean his physical work, though; she also meant the effect he had on his family members, his friends and the Waffle House, which may have been his favorite place outside his business, The Strip Shop.
Griggs was born in Paulette, Mississippi, on July 24, 1948. He left the state to go to college up in Detroit, Michigan, and to serve in the Army during Vietnam. Otherwise he spent the majority of his life in Columbus.
It was The Strip Shop – located in an old quonset hut out on the Island – that made him something of a legend in certain circles, though. Griggs was the go-to guy in Columbus to get wood — furniture, mostly — brought back to life or mended after it was damaged.
“Once he started (woodworking), he said he had found his calling,” Mobley remembered. “It had to be done just right. He didn’t half do anything he did.”
Sometimes that work was downright miraculous, she said.
“If a leg was missing off a chair, I saw him take wood chips and resin and make a new leg,” Mobley said. “He’d have a steel rod and wrap stuff around it. I’ve never seen anything like it. You wouldn’t be able to tell which one he built. It was amazing.”
“He was by far one of the best,” said Andrew Whitten, Griggs’ brother. “If he did it, it lasted. He was going to do it right. That was him in a nutshell.”
Mobley remembered The Strip Shop was packed “wall to wall” with furniture waiting for her brother’s healing hand.
“When I say ‘wall to wall’ I mean there was a three-foot aisle to get from the front to the back,” she said. “Everything else was packed full. But if someone came in and said they wanted to get their furniture, he knew right where it was. His system was in his head, and I never figured it out.”
Mobley said she briefly worked with her brother.
“I worked at the shop for a while just to annoy him,” she said. “He would tell me to sand the wood with the grain, and I’d wait for his back to turn and sand it against the grain just to irritate him. It was just a brother-sister thing that I did.”
The work planted a seed, though, that would shape her life.
“I worked there long enough to get an interest,” she said. “I used to be a state-licensed contractor. Working with my hands, I think I got that from Raymond.”
Nancy Carpenter, the executive director for the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, knew Griggs well and used his services for years. One particular repair job she recalled revolved around a dog.
“We had a Pyredoodle, which is a Great Pyrennees and poodle mix, and it was a very large dog,” she said. “He came by and swatted his tail and broke a table that had belonged to my great-grandmother.”
Griggs came by “immediately” upon learning of the damage and got the table and fixed it, Carpenter said.
“I think he felt sorry for Cotton, the dog, as much as he did for me,” Carpenter said. “He kept telling me, ‘Don’t be mad at Cotton. He didn’t mean to.’”
Griggs was very compassionate, Carpenter remembered.
“When my husband got sick, he called all the time and wanted to know if there was anything he could do,” she said. “(Griggs) was just heartbroken when he learned that he was dying.”
That concern for others comes up a lot when you talk to people who knew Griggs.
“He was just full of compassion,” Mobley said. “He was my guardian. He pulled me out of a few snares, I couldn’t even tell you all the things that he pulled me through. I knew when I needed him that he would always be there.”
Whitten was similarly warm in his remembrance.
“He was my big brother,” he said. “He was one of those that if you’re in need he would go out of his way to help you any way he could. It’s hard to explain other than to say he was my big brother. When I say that, that’s a lot.”
Eggs over well, toast and coffee
If Griggs wasn’t working or at church, he was probably at the Waffle House, where he was practically an institution.
“He came up here all the time,” said Marsha Heard, a supervisor at the restaurant. “He probably came up here for 20 years, all the way back to when we were across the street.”
The Waffle House is currently located at 1205 Highway 45 North, but it was previously right across the highway in front of what is now the La Quinta Inn.
“He always ordered the same thing,” said waitress Arlene Jones. “Eggs over well, toast, dark, and coffee. He always wanted to drink coffee.”
Heard said he was quiet, but “he was a great guy who could teach you a life lesson.”
Whitten said even after Griggs’ health began to fail he still wanted to go to the Waffle House.
“I’d take him up there and sit around with him until got tired and ready to go,” he said. “That was his place. I think he just liked the atmosphere, and talking to the waitresses and all. Once they got to know him, that was it. They just loved talking to him. That was his home away from home as far as I was concerned.”
Heard said workers at the restaurant were “devastated” when they learned he had passed away.
“We knew he had taken sick,” she said. “It bothered us that he was sick, but he kept coming in here anyway because we were the people he knew.”
Griggs is survived by his twin daughters, Quintelle and Quintrelle Griggs; and his siblings, Whitten, Mobley, Lillie Griggs and Mary Smith. He was preceded in death by his sister Belinda Lowe.
“He is someone I’m going to miss,” Whitten said. “I’m going to miss him a whole bunch.”
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.