Longtime furniture craftsman dies of cancer

Raymond Griggs

“RAymond’s signature is all over this town,” Earnestine Mobley said.

Mobley was talking about his brother, the late Raymond Griggs, who died on June 2 at age 73 after a battle with cancer. Griggs was a carpenter, who she said “loved wood as if he had a love affair with it”. She wasn’t just talking about her physical work, though; she also meant the effect he had on his family members, friends, and the Waffle House, which was perhaps his favorite place outside of his business, The Strip Shop.

Griggs was born in Paulette, Mississippi on July 24, 1948. He left the state to attend college in Detroit, Michigan, and serve in the military during Vietnam. Otherwise, he spent the majority of his life in Columbus.

It’s The Strip Shop – housed in a former quonset hut on the island – that has made it something of a legend in some circles, however. Griggs was the go-to man in Columbus to revive wood—furniture, primarily—or repair it after it was damaged.

“Once he started (woodworking), he said he had found his calling,” recalls Mobley. “It had to be done well. He didn’t half do what he did.

Sometimes this work was downright miraculous, she says.

“If a chair was missing a leg, I would see him take wood chips and resin and make a new leg,” Mobley said. “He had a steel rod and was wrapping stuff around it. I have 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 lasted. He was going to do it right. It was him in a nutshell.

Mobley remembered The Strip Shop being crowded “wall to wall” with furniture waiting for his brother’s healing hand.

“When I say ‘wall to wall,’ I mean there was a three foot aisle to go front to back,” she said. “Everything else was packed. But if someone came in and said they wanted their furniture back, they knew exactly where it was. His system was in his head, and I never understood it.

Mobley said she briefly worked with her brother.

“I worked at the store for a while just to annoy him,” she said. “He would tell me to sand the wood in the direction of the grain, and I would wait until he turned his back to sand it in the direction of the grain just to irritate him. It was just a brother-sister thing I did.

The work planted a seed, however, that would shape his life.

“I worked on it long enough to be interested in it,” she said. “I was a state-licensed contractor. Working with my hands, I think I got that from Raymond.

Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, knew Griggs well and had used his services for years. One particular repair job she remembers involved a dog.

“We had a Pyredoodle, which is a Great Pyrennees and Poodle mix, and he was a really big dog,” she said. “He came and hit his tail and broke a table that had belonged to my great-grandmother.”

Griggs came “immediately” after learning of the damage and retrieved the table and repaired it, Carpenter said.

“I think he was sorry for Cotton, the dog, as much as he was for me,” Carpenter said. “He kept telling me, ‘Don’t be mad at Cotton. He didn’t mean to.

Griggs was very compassionate, Carpenter recalled.

“When my husband got sick he was calling all the time and wanting to know if there was anything he could do,” she said. “(Griggs) was just heartbroken when he found out he was dying.”

This concern for others often comes up when talking to people who knew Griggs.

“He was just full of compassion,” Mobley said. “He was my tutor. He pulled me out of a few traps, I couldn’t even tell you everything he pulled me through. I knew when I needed him he would always be there.

Whitten was just as warm in his memory.

“He was my big brother,” he said. “He was one of those who, if you were in need, would go out of their way to help you in any way possible. It’s hard to explain other than to say he was my big brother. When I say that, it’s a lot.

Raymond Griggs works on coloring a kitchen island in Nancy Carpenter’s house. Griggs’ family said that when he discovered woodworking, he discovered his calling. Photo courtesy of Nancy Carpenter

Eggs on well, toast and coffee

If Griggs wasn’t working or at church, he was probably at Waffle House, where he was practically an institution.

“He used to come here all the time,” said restaurant supervisor Marsha Heard. “He probably came here for 20 years, since we were across the street.”

The Waffle House is currently located at 1205 Highway 45 North, but was previously just across the highway from what is now the La Quinta Inn.

“He always ordered the same thing,” waitress Arlene Jones said. “Well-cooked eggs, toast, black and coffee. He always wanted to drink coffee.

Heard said he was quiet, but “he was a great guy who could teach you a lesson in life.”

Whitten said that even after Griggs’ health began to decline, he still wanted to go to Waffle House.

“I would take him up there and sit with him until he was tired and ready to go,” he said. “It was his place. I think he just liked the atmosphere, and talking to the waitresses and stuff. Once they got to know him, it was over. They loved talking to him. It was his home away from home as far as I was concerned.

Heard said restaurant workers were “devastated” when they learned he had died.

“We knew he got sick,” she said. “It bothered us that he was sick, but he still kept coming here because we were the people he knew.”

Griggs is survived by her twin daughters, Quintelle and Quintrelle Griggs; and his siblings, Whitten, Mobley, Lillie Griggs and Mary Smith. He was predeceased by his sister Belinda Lowe.

“He’s someone I’m going to miss,” Whitten said. “I will miss him very much.”

Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.

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