There are moments when you hear news that affects you deeply, when hearing the news actually has a profound impact on your life. I recently was sad to hear of the death of Fred Granek, one of the most decent, honest and honourable men I have known.
I came to know Fred when he joined the York Fencing Club as a member and coach in 1998. He was a constant presence at the Club, investing enormous efforts into training and mentoring the students. He was a great example to them – promoting the powerful values of honesty, decency, respect for others and hard work, the values that make us civilized and allow society to progress.
He believed deeply in equality, fairness and opportunity – ideals which he promoted in all of his conversations and embodied in all of his actions. Fred talked the talk, but he lived up to his ideals in all of his actions. He led a considered life, aware that his choices had meaning and that his actions had an impact on others. He tried hard to make that impact positive and indeed, it always way. Everyone who came into contact with Fred came away a better, more thoughtful and considerate person. He never badgered or attacked, he just made his point in a rational and human way that was impossible to ignore – sometimes exasperatingly so. After quietly making his point, Fred would leave to you think about his lesson – you may have fumed, but you knew that he was right, that what he said was bred of a ferocious commitment to ancient and time-honoured human values.
When I finished my time as president of the York Fencing Club in 2003, Fred took over as Head Coach. His knees hurt so much that he could hardly lunge some nights, but he showed up every night to the club to give lessons, tell jokes and share war stories from a life spent fencing, teaching, promoting environmental businesses and being a good father and husband.
Fred regaled us with his stories. He told us of how he was a part of the initial York Fencing Club and the motley crew of personalities that formed the membership. He told us of the time that he helped build the Cock and Bull coffee shop at York University and how he placed a sword there, above the bar, which remained in place until the shop closed in 2007 (it has since re-opened as a pub). He told us of how he was coached and trained by sorely missed Fencing Master Ken Wood, who ran both the University of Toronto and York University fencing clubs. He told us of his regret that he missed the opportunity fence for Canada at the Maccabi Games in the 1970s because of other commitments. He told us of his love for nature and the many trips he took to see beautiful, rare and unspoiled parts of the world.
Nature was a inspiration and a consolation for Fred – a life-long environmental activist, he was convinced that going green was good for business and spent his professional life demonstrating how companies can better profit and succeed by improving their environmental footprint. He didn’t believe that the environment and business were mutually incompatible, rather he saw protecting the planet as a business opportunity.
Fred loved young people and believed in them. He came to McMaster to deliver a guest lecture on environmental activism to my students. He spoke to them about how noble it is to lead a considered, responsible life in which you considered your impact on the Earth and other people. They were enthralled. He showed them case study after case study demonstrating that you can change the world by changing your actions, attitudes and approach, in your personal life and in business. The students had many questions and didn’t want the session to end. He stayed for another hour after, chatting with them, giving them career tips and telling them stories and teaching lessons.
Fred was a also a great family man and friend. He was so proud of his beloved wife, Debbie and her accomplishments as an author. He couldn’t contain his pride at his children’s accomplishments and beamed when he announced his son’s upcoming marriage to us. Fred couldn’t contain his love and enthusiasm for the people close to him. This extended to the Fencing Club members as well. He believe in us. He supported us and he kept in touch, celebrating our successes and commiserating optimistically when we stumbled.
Stanley Yee founded the Dragon Fencing Academy in 2006 and gave Fred and I the honour of fencing the new club’s first match. Fred was so incredibly proud to be involved in yet another milestone of fencing history in Canada.
When I got the job as a tenure-track assistant professor of communications at McMaster in 2001, Fred was overflowing with pride and happiness. He couldn’t stop congratulating me on the appointment, accompanied always by the admonishment that being a professor was a great responsibility and that I should always be a force for good, a champion of just causes and proponent of humanitarian values and of reason.
Fred kept it up, sending me emails about media commentaries I was doing on politics or social media. Fred was a great believer in the power of public relations and communications management, particularly for the environment, but was persistent in repeating his deeply-held belief that ethics should be a consideration in each and every campaign, action or plan. He was a great role model, that way.
I mourn the passing of Fred Granek. He was a champion of the ancient time honoured values that make us more human. Fred respected people and showed everyone he met how to respect others.
He wouldn’t have wanted anyone to refer to him this way, but I will say it: Fred Granek was a great man, a teacher to those who knew him and an example to us all. He will be remembered in our noble actions, in our fairness and when we lovingly create opportunity for others.
May he rest in peace.
Me, Fred, Stanley Yee and Valerie Ossipova at the grand opening of the Dragon Fencing Academy (2006).
Fred (left) and me, Fencing the honorary first bout at the grand opening of the Dragon Fencing Academy (2006).