Passings: Grif Cunningham was master of Bethune College

Grif Cunningham

Griffiths “Grif” Cunningham, husband of York Professor Ann Shteir (Rusty) and longtime York U community member, died on Oct. 12 at Bridgepoint Palliative Care in Toronto. The son of Laurence and Gwladys (Griffiths) Cunningham, Grif grew up on their St. Catharines, Ontario peach farm with his sisters, Margaret, Jocelyn, Gwynedd and Ethne. Being a farm boy, and the son of vegetarian, Methodist/Theosophist “CCFers” (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation) shaped his lifelong engagement as an adult educator committed to the well being of the land and the people who depend on it.

Griffiths “Grif” Cunningham
Griffiths “Grif” Cunningham

As a young man in the mid-1950s, while completing his BA and MA in Geography at the University of Toronto, Grif worked for Frontier College, building the CP rail through the Alberta Rockies by day, teaching literacy by night and as a high school teacher on Manitoulin Island. He later moved to England for his PhD in Historical Geography at University College London.

In 1961, after answering an advertisement in the New Statesman, Grif got a job as a teacher at Kivukoni College in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he later became Principal. This was a period of profound engagement for Grif and it took him all over the countryside. For the next nine years he worked with colleagues from all over Africa and the world to develop Kivukoni’s mission to educate Tanzania’s newly independent civil service, and later became a personal assistant to President Julius Nyerere, working to build socialism in Tanzania. He also attempted to domesticate wild African bees, introduced the kayak to the shipping lanes of the Dar es Salaam harbor, and took his kids, Neill and Bronwen out skin diving on the gorgeous coral reefs.

Moving back to Canada in 1970, Grif accepted a post at York University, where he was hired to form the Social Science Department of Atkinson College in the 1970s. He was a dedicated Atkinson teacher and colleague, much involved the social, political, and administrative life of Atkinson and the University. Grif served with great pleasure as master of Bethune College 1979-1983.

It was at York that Grif met his partner of over 40 years, Ann Shteir (Rusty). In this new phase of his life, Grif was a founding member of Karma, the Toronto food co-op where he indulged his love of exotic stinky cheeses, campaigned for the NDP, gardened his allotment, built a canoe, and cultivated native plants all over the Annex. A high point was walking the Camino de Santiago with his daughter Sarah before she left home for university.

Grif led a rich, good life, devoted to the well-being of his family and the various communities to which he belonged. He was a lovely man in all respects. He will be missed by Rusty, his children and family.

Grif’s family would like to acknowledge the care and support of staff at the Baycrest Brain Health Centre, Mount Sinai Hospital and Bridgepoint Palliative Care.

Donations in Grif’s name can be made to the New Democratic Party, Ontario Nature, Community Food Centres Canada and Code Canada.

A celebration of his life will be held in January 2015.