One of the greatest joys of my life was being able to work right next to William Norman Grigg at The New American magazine from 1994-2001 in Appleton, Wisconsin. I had been one of the staffers who had moved out from Belmont, Massachusetts to Appleton in 1989, and he was quickly added to the magazine’s staff after some brilliantly-written columns in 1993.
“Thesaurus Rex,” as he was sometimes called in Appleton, wrote for the internal newsletter of the company we called “The Insider Report” with a wit and vocabulary that made everyone in the office belly laugh. Hardly any of his satiric wit made it into the print magazine, because the style of the magazine at the time was to limit satire. But it was a joy to read, and I’m richer for having access to it. Much of my own writing style is a pale shadow of Will Grigg’s thundering style of prose.
One example of his wit was his description of the apprehension of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski in “The Insider Report.” He had written that the environmental terrorist Kaczynski — who had been apprehended unbathed — had experienced in “personal biodiversity while living in a yurt made of his own offal.” I read it and laughed, even though at the time I didn’t know what a “yurt” or “offal” was (though I had a pretty good idea from the context). So I looked them up in a dictionary … and laughed again, even louder.
Of course, there were two senior editors and three researchers who wrote for “The Insider Report,” but Will Grigg wrote the majority of the content. And he wrote the best content. He was a voracious reader, and his reading inevitably made it into his articles. Will was for a decade the magazine’s most prolific writer, and the writer most readers looked forward to reading most.
I left The New American‘s staff before he did, and for different reasons than his departure. His split with The New American and its parent organization, the John Birch Society, in 2005 was acrimonious. I won’t go into that other than to observe that both sides could have toned it down. I tried to smooth things over to prevent Will’s departure, but was not successful. There are plenty of people who would want to beat up on The New American magazine for firing him as his wife Korrin got sick, leaving Will as the only caretaker of his five children (they have six now). There are a few who deserve some blame for that. But the result of the firing was that the magazine was greatly diminished. Ironically, the years immediately following Will’s firing was my most prolific time as a freelancer for The New American. I tried to fill the gap, but no one could replace Will Grigg.
But Will also faced a loss. Leaving The New American diminished Will’s writing production, as he took more time to make ends meet and deal with domestic issues. Will was thunderous after 2005 right up until he got sick last month, but never even close to being as prolific as during his time with The New American.
I was enriched by his friendship, even though it was a long distance one beginning in 2001. Will was unbelievably friendly, omni-curious, and wholly devoted to his wife and children. Mostly I will remember him for his great personal wit and vocabulary, whether it was in print or in a face-to-face conversation. I will greatly miss that.
His family needs help more now than ever, as his children grow up without a father.