A message from Head of School Dan Paradis, August 20, 2019:
Dear Park School Community,
It is with a heavy heart that I write to share the news that Kenny Greif – fierce intellect, longtime master teacher, trusted mentor and advisor, valued friend, generous spirit, film cognoscente, and sports aficionado – passed away this morning. Kenny (Mr. Greif, Ken) had been ailing in recent months, and he died surrounded by loving family, friends, and caregivers.
As many of us know, it is difficult to adequately convey the depth and breadth of Kenny’s contributions to the lives of Park students, families, fellow teachers, and to the life of the institution itself. On the occasion of his retirement from Park after over 30 years, there was an outpouring of sentiment from students, parents, trustees, and fellow teachers — anecdotes, multi-page letters, poems, and more — that I will borrow from to share with you here. (He had, indeed, prepared a great many people in the art of impassioned self-expression.)
From the late Head of School Bob Thomason, who hired Kenny: Your enthusiasm for literature, your skills in teaching, your love of children, your selflessness, your kindness and generosity — these and so many other traits have made you beloved by those whom you have touched….I still recall our initial meeting; it was clear that you had the call.
From Pelle Wertheimer ’80, Park alumna and current faculty member: From the moment I first stepped into your classroom, I knew that I was where I needed to be: in a place of beauty and powerful words and drama. You evoked the world for me in your selections of literature, and in your readings you brought this world alive…What greater mentor could I have had in my studies and finally in my decision to become a teacher? What greater colleague could I have had during my own years teaching at Park? And still now you encourage me.
From the late Sue Cohen, parent of alumnae: Kenny was an inspiration to Janet (’78) and Nancy (’81) — friend, advisor, teacher, and confidant. He had a lot to do with developing their love of learning and insatiable thirst for reading.
I never had the pleasure of working with Kenny, but I can tell you that his legacy lives vividly in the shape, substance, and trajectory of the lives of those he taught and advised. Whenever I attend alumni gatherings — here on campus and in various cities around the country — Kenny’s name invariably comes up. The stories, the detailed memories, and the heartfelt expressions of gratitude shared by his former students always fill me with immeasurable pride in knowing that one teacher — one Park teacher — could have such meaningful and lasting effects on so many lives.
Yet, Kenny was humble. Anyone who has known him would also know that he eschewed grand celebrations and certainly would be mortified by the notion of being referred to as “legendary” or “iconic.” These are two words, however, that are consistently linked to his name. Other words used frequently to describe him are insightful, spontaneous, idiosyncratic, opinionated, compassionate, sensitive, and generous.
Kenneth L. Greif graduated from Brown University, the University of Virginia School of Law, and The Johns Hopkins University, from which he earned a master’s in teaching. He joined Park’s faculty in 1963 and retired after the 1996–97 school year.
At Park, he was an Upper School English teacher, coach, and advisor. He served as English Department Chair, advised the literary journal Parkpourri, and served on the Program Review Committee. He wrote innumerable college recommendations, and guided many seniors through the college application and essay process. He staged plays and recited poetry. He spent countless hours after school attending games, having long conversations with students in the hallway, and immersing himself in the thoughts, ideas, and counterpoints that swirled around him.
Among his favorite courses to teach were Romantic Poetry, 19th Century English and American Fiction, the Modern English Novel, and Russian Literature. And, of course, Shakespeare.
He was a champion of the life of the mind — and he was a sports fan. He loved Park athletics. And he loved professional baseball — in particular, the Baltimore Orioles. He was known to combine these two passions (Park and the Orioles): on more than one occasion, he was spotted in the stands of Memorial Stadium grading papers between innings.
Kenny loved The Park School. During his long career here, he gave abundantly of his time and his talent, and, through his personal philanthropy, provided tuition assistance for many Park students. He sought to make a Park education accessible to as many children as possible.
In his honor, Kenny’s friends started The Kenneth L. Greif Tuition Assistance Fund that continues to provide access to Park for children who otherwise could not afford it.
We hold Ruthie Sachs Kalvar ’85, Kenny’s stepdaughter, in our hearts at this difficult time. Ruthie has let us know that the funeral will be private, per Kenny’s wishes. Please expect to hear from me again to share news of a celebration of Kenny’s life that will be hosted here on campus in the fall.
I, like many of you, certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Kenny, for The Park School of today bears his indelible mark. My view of an inspired and inspiring member of the Park faculty — of someone who we want and need teaching our children — has been shaped by this smart, kind, and generous man. He will continue to be an inspiration to us all.
I offer my heartfelt condolences to Kenny’s immediate family, and to the entire Kenny Greif community of family and friends, literature and film lovers, athletes, and adventurous minds.
Head of School