Eileene V. Griffoul|
August 15, 1921 – July 4, 2014
Resident of San Jose, CA
Eileene Griffoul passed away after a brief illness on July 4, 2014, in the home she and her husband Henry built in 1946. She would have been 93 at her next birthday in August, and was predeceased by her husband of 66 years.
When Eileene Griffoul (nee Durkin) first arrived in California in 1945, the native New Yorker did not know that her new husband, a sailor whose sense of humor was one of his many attractions, had told his mother that his new bride had been a dancer at Minsky's, a famous Manhattan leg emporium. This presented a number of problems, chief among them its complete fiction, and also that Henry was on an extended cruise to North Africa and would not be home to correct the misinformation for some months. Adding to the dilemma was the fact that Eileene was to live with his parents in Willow Glen and that his mother, a proper French lady who still spoke with a Provencal accent, could not be persuaded that her son would perpetrate such a hoax.
Mme. Griffoul elder could not be faulted for believing him. Eileene was a tall blue-eyed beauty with dark red hair and legs that were deeply appreciated by her new father-in-law, Henri senior. The fact that she was raised in a convent and that her wartime employment had been in receivables at a candy manufacturer was an account that her mother-in-law would for years, even after her son's confession, treat as a polite cover story.
Despite all this, Eileene grew to love California and especially Willow Glen, where in the pre-Silicon Valley days she would raise a family of four children and instill in each of them by deed and demonstration the importance of participation in community and generosity of spirit. They were lessons that, for her, had been hard earned.
The youngest of eight children born to John and Catherine (nee Murphy) Durkin, themselves natives of Ireland's western shore, Eileene was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Her mother died when she was just five, and her father's second wife, who was not disposed to motherhood, recommended Eileene be put in the care of nuns at a convent school in Queens. The years there provided a surprisingly comprehensive education, beautiful handwriting, a commitment to charity, and an aversion to poverty. Upon graduation she moved in with an older sister who worked for a well-known furrier, got a job behind the counter at Fannie May candies, and began building a wardrobe that would complement her showgirl good looks. Enter a handsome sailor from California whose ship was in repair at the Brooklyn Shipyards, a blind date, a whirlwind courtship, and the classic wartime match was made. "Mom," Henry wrote his mother after detailing his new bride's alleged career in show business, "At least she's Catholic."
Together Eileene and Henry would build their house on Curtner Avenue, a successful business (Alloy Wire Belt Co.) and a family that would grow to four kids, eight grandchildren, and two great-great children. They became legendary at the Crippled Children's Society Christmas tree lot on Winchester, where for years they engineered setting up the lot and manning it with other volunteers every dark day in December. Eileene's many years of working on the Society's board and its Camp Costanoan in Stevens Creek Canyon made an enormous difference in the lives of countless children. In 1984 the Santa Clara County Crippled Children's Society (as it was then known) created a special award in recognition of her many contributions. Her own children's activities were also supported, in school, scouts, and sports. When one son raced bicyles in the velodrome, she was there at every meeting with a tense smile and bandages. When a daughter became a pottery prodigy, she hauled cases of ceramics in her station wagon to weekend crafts fairs. For years she had quietly dropped cookies off at the local firehouse just to make sure they had enough to eat. When the fire crew pulled up one time to aide Eileene after a fall they cried out, "Look, it's the cookie lady!" She anonymously paid for funerals and supported many charities, asking only that she not be recognized. The impulse of her generous spirit was to reach out to everyone, to make sure that no one was left out, even strangers. This from a kid who had been left out at a very early age.
After Henry's retirement, they had the opportunity to travel widely, and Eileene enjoyed trips all over Europe, Asia, and the United States, where they were stalwarts at reunions of Henry's ship, the Phelps DD 360. The life of any party, Eileene's love of friends and family seemed to ever grow even until her last days. Eileene will be remembered for her warm smile, generosity, and the pride she had in her family. Perhaps her ony regret was that she would not be available to attend her own wake.
Eileene is survived by her daughter Maureene Hay of San Jose, son Richard Griffoul of Piedmont, daughter Michelle Griffoul of Maui, and son Matthew Griffoul of Morgan Hill. She particularly appreciated her aides Sione Mahe (John) and Lopiseni Fangaloka (Robbie) for the care and sweetness they provided to both her and Henry in their final years. A funeral service and celebration of her life will be held on Saturday, July 12, at Lima Family Mortuary in Santa Clara at 11 A.M. Internment will follow at Santa Clara Mission Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, it is requested that donations be made to Camp Costanoan, c/o Via Services, 2851 Park Ave., Santa Clara 95050.
Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on July 9, 2014