Rev. Phil Grigsby, longtime head of SiCM, dies; Remembered as ‘heart of Schenectady’

Rev. Phil Grigsby, leader of SiCM in Schenectady for 33 years, is seen in this undated photo.

Rev. Phil Grigsby, leader of SiCM in Schenectady for 33 years, is seen in this undated photo.

In the mid-1990s Rabbi Matthew Cutler of The Gates of Heaven Congregation and Rev. Phil Grigsby stood outside of Proctors chatting. 

Cutler recalled the city was just beginning to pick up economically, but that he told Grigsby he couldn’t see how Schenectady would climb back and survive.

It was then, Cutler said, that Grigsby put his arm around him and said “We will get through this and we will thrive.” 

The two walked back to their cars that day and remained friends ever since. 

On Tuesday, Schenectady Community Ministries announced that Grigsby had died that morning.

Grigsby began working at SiCM, formerly Schenectady Inner City Ministries, in 1986 as the executive director and urban agent. 

His dedication to serving the community had no bounds. 

Grigsby would serve as the SiCM’s leader for 33 years before retiring in October 2019. During his time at the organization he oversaw the expansion of SiCM’s campus on 837 Albany St., which houses various community support systems like a community learning kitchen and Ellis Hospital clinic, according to a release from SiCM. 

In addition to his commitment to the SiCM food pantry, Grigsby also worked diligently to abolish racial divides in Schenectady County. As the executive director of SiCM, he fostered a program dedicated to providing a safe environment for youth and adults to challenge issues relating to race and diversity called “Schenectady County Embraces Diversity.”

He didn’t stop there though, finding any way he could to support the community, including establishing the now 27-year-old summer meals program for youth and children.

“Phil Grigsby’s commitment to justice and community extended well beyond SiCM’s mission and engagement,” states the release from SiCM. “His leadership sought to address the needs of vulnerable citizens in response to the issues articulated by the community (and) led him to engage in local, regional and state-wide collaborations including Community Crises Network, leading a Social Justice addressing police-community, criminal justice and related issues in Schenectady City and County, participating in the establishment of a Policy Community Review Board, facilitating Schenectady County Embraces Diversity – study circles to strengthen communities through dialogue on racism and related issues with a focus on youth. His engagement in these and other  community initiatives highlighted the pressing needs for community-based access to health, food, housing,  green spaces, a clean environment, quality public education, and political enfranchisement.”

His commitment to providing for the community in any way he could inspired people like City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, who worked with Grigsby in the 1990s at SiCM. 

Porterfield said he was a man well ahead of his time.

“A lot of the things that he did were innovative and hadn’t been done before,” she said. 

She said Grigsby was a mentor to her in her role as a public servant focused on community work.

“He treated everyone with dignity, regardless of what they’re situation was,” she said. 

Porterfield said she will remember Grigsby fondly for how he continued to stay in contact with her mother Rev. Diana Fletcher even after she retired from working at SiCM. 

“That to me was important, that he didn’t forget about the work that she had done,” Porterfield said. 

Cutler described the local leader the only way he could — extraordinary. 

“Grigsby was the heart of Schenectady,” Cutler said. “He was the guy I went to when I needed spiritual guidance. For me he’s the voice of consciousness I’m going to hear down the road.”

His passing is a loss for many, but his legacy lives on in his successor Amaury Taňón-Santos, Cutler said. 

He said he has had big shoes to fill when it came to taking over as the executive director of SiCM. 

But Grigsby helped make the transition easier, Taňón-Santos said. 

“Phil made himself available to me immediately,” he said.

Taňón-Santos said he remembers feeling overwhelmed with all the work that SiCM was doing in the community and recalled Grigsby telling him all the people he needed to know in the community and then turning around and getting him into contact with those very people. 

“He welcomed me as a colleague and shared with me readily and with little prompt his wisdom, his passion for the city, his passion for the people of the city and the work that lies ahead,” he said. 

Grigsby is survived by his wife, Dr. Janet “Jan” Grigsby, and his sons Matthew “Matt” Grigsby and Christopher “Chris” Grigsby. 

Information regarding a memorial will be forthcoming, according to SiCM’s press release.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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