Perry McGriff Jr. was an All-American, two-sport athlete. He served his city and county government. He was a successful businessman and philanthropist. More than anything he was a family man who cultivated relationships over a lifetime of giving — giving of himself.
The former Gainesville mayor died at 79 on Thursday from complications with a heart surgery. Guests flooded into the church to pay respects and celebrate his life and legacy at Westside Baptist Church today.
Lines of family members, friends and community members stretched outside the door as each person waited in line to sign their name in one of the three guests books to honor McGriff’s life.
“We’re going to rejoice in Perry and all of his accomplishments,” Pastor David Chauncey said to the congregation of about 300.
From black and white photographs to full-colored posters, McGriff was depicted as a humanitarian and a civically-engaged Gator.
“He had a huge heart,” Chauncey said about McGriff’s willingness to help others. McGriff, a former insurance agent, was also an adamant blood donor. McGriff-Williams Insurance has donated 67 gallons of blood over his lifetime.
“He gave you insurance on the inside and on the outside,” the pastor joked. “He was All-American—not just as an athlete but in how he invested his life.”
An inductee to the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, McGriff was considered by many to be one of the best two-sport athletes to play at UF. An outfielder on the baseball team and a wide receiver in football, he was twice named all-SEC, first in 1958 then in 1959.
Post-graduation, he became prominent in politics after serving as Gainesville city commissioner and mayor, as well as Alachua County commissioner. He was later elected into the Florida House of Representatives in 2000.
An avid cyclist and philanthropist, McGriff biked over 14,000 miles for LifeSouth Community Blood Centers.
“He was always all good,” said Nancy Eckert, president and CEO of LifeSouth. “He loved his bicycle, and left a legacy of donors and lifesavers.”
Though McGriff was a prominent member of the Gainesville community, his life was dedicated to his family.
He was husband to Noel McGriff for 57 years and father to five children.
“There’s no one else we would rather call Poppy,” said his eldest granddaughter Taylor Grayson.
Careful to build relationships with each cousin and grandchild, McGriff will be remembered by his attempt to always know someone deeply.
“His greatest collection was his collection of relationships,” said his son, Matthew McGriff. “His heart failed him, but we’re here because his heart served us.”