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Remembering Longtime NYFWA Member Jefferson Grigsby

Longtime NYFWA member Jefferson Grigsby passed away on January 6th at the age of 85, following a lengthy illness.

Grigsby, who used the byline Henry Jefferson Grigsby, began his career as a reporter for Colorado’s Sterling Journal-Advocate in 1954. But the bulk of his career was spent as an editor for United Press International, where he rotated through several of the news agency’s bureaus between 1958 and 1975. Following UPI, he went on to work as an editor for Forbes, followed by a brief stint as an editor for Financial World magazine and then some freelancing for Barron’s.

Grigsby was a longtime fan of the Financial Follies and was involved with the show for many years, as both a writer and performer. The mark he made on the NYFWA is evident in the many comments from longtime NYFWA members who shared their memories of Grigsby upon learning of his passing.

Robert Flaherty, a longtime NYFWA member and past president, has similarly fond memories of Grigsby regarding the Follies. “When I became president of the NYFWA in l979, Jeff Grigsby, who had the next office at Forbes, mentioned that in college he had loved to write songs for his student shows. So I asked him to join the Financial Writers and do one for us. His ‘Drain You Dry!’ starred Dracula becoming a Wall Street broker who was seeking new blood and liked to suck. The New York TimesLenny Sloane appeared on stage as a vampire with a bright green face as he sang Jeff's hit. It brought down the house. For many years afterwards, Jeff wrote books and lyrics for many follies,” said Flaherty, editor and chairman of Flaherty Financial News.

Claudia Deutsch, also a longtime NYFWA member and former president, recalls the years when Grigsby wrote nearly the entire Financial Follies by himself. “There used to be a tradition that the NYFWA president not only had to be in the Follies, but had to have a solo. So, in 1997 when I was the president Jeff and Jerry Goldstein, the director at that time, turned to each other with the equivalent of ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ said Deutsch, readily admitting her inability to sing. “So Jeff came up with a brilliant idea: Rex Harrison, he noted, had the same problem, yet he’d managed to star in My Fair Lady by basically talking the songs. They wrote me a truly raunchy number, to the tune –or lack thereof– of ‘Let a Woman in Your Life.’ I played Claudia Kennedy, who that year had become the highest-ranking female general, singing/chanting ‘Let a man into your tank, and you'll discover that he shrank...’  It was steadily downhill from there –and it was a showstopper!  I have always loved Jeff for the creativity he showed in turning my weakness into an asset!”

Bob Kozma, another longtime NYFWA member and former president, has equally fond memories of Grigsby’s songwriting abilities: “When it came to the Follies and writing songs for the show, Jeff was a master wordsmith; he specialized in Gilbert & Sullivan songs. Two of my favorite Jeff Grigsby songs [which I happened to sing] were the Modern Day Economist ["I am the very model of a modern day economist; I specialize in frightening views and predications ominous..."] and a routine in which I portrayed the head of Chase...the song started "All that lovely float I raise by holding up your checks for days..[we had to delay that next bit because the laughter and applause were so strong]...I send it off to Poland and Peru. Surely they will send it back but if they don't things aren't so black for I'll get by as long as I have you!" 

Longtime NYFWA member Art Samansky also shared his fond memories of Grigsby: "There's so much one can say about Jeff, all of it good. He was a professional in every sense of the word and that professionalism was evident in everything and everyone he touched. Beyond professionalism, Jeff was a gentleman in every sense of the word, too. I think Claudia really hit it right when she explained how Jeff turned a singing weakness of hers into an asset. Whether it was singing, or otherwise, Jeff always found a way to help someone, myself included, turn a weakness into an asset, and never sought anything in return."

Said longtime NYFWA member Tom Mariam of his memories of Grigsby: “I worked with Jeff for many years on the Follies Book Committee when it really was the equivalent of a book (a 75-minute shows). Jeff chaired it for many of those years, often hosting at his apartment in Chelsea. One of his great leadership attributes was that he rarely said ‘no’ to an idea. Instead, he took the time to figure out how it might work or work best, suggesting how to develop the idea into a viable Follies song. That was as important a contribution as the many memorable songs he wrote himself. Jeff was also far too modest, usually deflecting credit when he was given much-deserved kudos for his bring-the-house-down Follies numbers and scripts.” 

“Jeff loved Gilbert & Sullivan. As a parodist, he’d just set sail with Follies classics like the Fed chief as a “modern major general.” Probably the most dazzling though was the star turn hitting the Japanese financing community: Japanese Cats from the Lloyd Webber classic number ‘Jellicle Cats.’  Or how he stepped in to help me execute a rewrite plan the day of the ‘87 market crash and the one-word change from ‘Playboy’ to ‘Daddy’ that did for me what it did for Mary Martin: stopped the show, launched my stage career and in so doing connected me to the NYFWA, the best in show in my view of any professional journalist group. Jeff was a joy to work with and a very special man,” said longtime NYFWA member and former NYFWA president Roberta Yafie

Those who knew Grigsby professionally had equally fond memories of him. “Jeff was not only a good editor but a real manager. He knew how to get the various editorial departments to work together –copy desk, art, proofreaders, fact checkers– to get the pages to the press on time. He was tough but always a gentleman,” said former Forbes editor Jean Briggs upon learning of his death.

Added longtime NYFWA member Allan Dodds Frank, who also worked with Grigsby during his years at Forbes: “Jeff was a real tall handsome gentleman and a fine editor. He understood reporting and how to make it better, both by sending the reporter back to the phone or the field and by editing that made the article ring with clarity.”

As per his wishes, Grigsby was cremated and there was no funeral. Anyone who would like to send on their condolences can do so by mailing them to his longtime girlfriend Pat Lovewell at 321 East 66th Street #4H New York, NY 10065