Al Griggs, 80, one of four to be named for a Governor’s Award in the Humanities

  • Al Griggs  Photo by Mark Washburn

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2020 5:13:58 PM

From helping to create the popular Valley Gives fundraiser to launching initiatives designed to provide both tuition-free college courses and ease student loan debt, Al Griggs has spent the last two decades working for others.

Come next week, the 80-year-old Northampton resident will be recognized as one of four Governor’s Award in the Humanities recipients this year. Griggs, the only resident from western Massachusetts named for the award, is being recognized for more than 20 years working with nonprofit organizations in the area, including his work with Valley Gives and the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), of which he is a board member.

The Governor’s Award in the Humanities recognizes individuals for public actions in the humanities that enhance their communities. The board of directors for Northampton-based nonprofit Mass Humanities selected the nominees who are confirmed by Gov. Charlie Baker. An awards event will be held virtually on Oct. 25 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Griggs, a resident of Northampton since 1957, said it was “beyond a surprise” to learn that he had received the award.

“We live in an incredibly wonderful place, the Valley is just a great place to live and work and raise a family,” says Griggs, who recently completed a six-year term on the Mass Humanities board. “Some people aren’t as fortunate as others and it’s been great to work with organizations to improve the lots of people who are less fortunate and try to make this place as nice to them as it is for us who are more fortunate.”

Starting in the mid-1990s, Griggs served as chairman of the Tuition Management Systems board, a company that is focused on reducing student loan debt burdens for individuals and families.

“The mission of the company was to reduce the loan burden, principally on college students, by pointing out to them through a very straightforward analysis how much cash they could afford to spend against that tuition bill,” Griggs says. “Regardless of the dollar amount, it really had the cumulative effect of reducing the students’ need for loans. Everything the company did was focused on that principle.”

Griggs has also been involved with the Clemente Course in the Humanities — a partnership between Mass Humanities, the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services and the University of Massachusetts Amherst satellite location in Springfield that offers tuition-free college courses in Springfield and other cities across the state.

He added that when students graduate from the course, they receive college credits from Bard College in New York.

“In many cases, that’s the impetus that people need to continue their college education,” Griggs said. “But even if they don’t, they have a completely different outlook on life and the opportunities that are available to them regardless of their circumstances.”

Valley Gives, a one-day fundraiser for nonprofits across the Pioneer Valley that’s raised more than $10 million during the past six years, was co-founded by Griggs and Paul Doherty, a lawyer and philanthropist who died in 2016.

“So much of the Valley is people contributing, not large amounts of money, but collectively it has a huge impact on the Valley,” he said.

Other award recipients this year include native linguist Jessie Little Doe Baird, who received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010 for her efforts to revive the Wampanoag language, Emerson College President Lee Pelton, and Fredericka Stevenson, co-founder of Summer Search Boston, an organization with a mission to identify low-income high school students who’ve overcome hardships and to set them on a path to become college graduates.

For more information about Mass Humanities visit

Chris Goudreau can be reached at

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