Larry Griffin protesting at the “Disrupt Inequality Rally” alongside local members of local labor unions in front of San Francisco City Hall. (Photo/Brooke Anderson)
Larry Griffin protesting at the “Disrupt Inequality Rally” alongside local members of local labor unions in front of San Francisco City Hall. (Photo/Brooke Anderson)

Larry Griffin, S.F. civic and labor leader, was a ‘mensch’s mensch’

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The word most often used by Jewish friends and colleagues to describe San Francisco labor advocate and city commissioner Laurence “Larry” Griffin was “mensch.”

Griffin, who was 69, died July 7 from a stomach virus that invaded his bloodstream, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco union workers, elected officials and Jewish leaders spoke of his tireless dedication to protecting workers rights, supporting disadvantaged children and advocating for the Jewish community.

“Larry was really dedicated to making sure Jews had a voice in the civic arena,” said Jessica Trubowitch, director of policy and partnerships for the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area. Griffin had sat on JCRC’s assembly council since 2016.

“He was just the sweetest, menschiest, guy,” Trubowitch said.

Between 2007 and 2016, Griffin held several leadership roles at International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21, a San Francisco labor union representing public sector workers. In 2018, he was elected Western area vice president for the national union.

Larry Griffin speaks at a 2023 Black Heritage Celebration luncheon. (Photo/Jim Watkins)
Larry Griffin speaks at a 2023 Black Heritage Celebration luncheon. (Photo/Jim Watkins)

In the years prior to joining JCRC’s assembly, Trubowitch said, Griffin helped build bridges between San Francisco’s labor community and Jewish community when there were moments of tension.

Over his career with the city government, Griffin was a District Attorney’s Office investigator, Child Support Services investigator and contract compliance officer in the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement.

He also served as president of the board at the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, an organization serving Black youth and families in the Western Addition, the San Francisco neighborhood where he grew up.

Griffin was the son of Herman and Estelle Griffin, one of San Francisco’s first interracial couples to marry shortly after the repeal of the city’s anti-miscegenation law in 1949. Herman Griffin was the first African American labor representative for the retail clerks union in San Francisco. Estelle Griffin, whose maiden name was Klein, was Jewish and worked for over 40 years as a financial analyst at an advertising agency and managed a laundromat, according to her 2014 obituary.

Herman and Estelle Griffin, Larry's parents, at their wedding. They were among the first interracial couples to marry in San Francisco after an anti-miscegenation law was repealed in 1949.(Photo/California Labor School Negative Collection)
Herman and Estelle Griffin, Larry’s parents, at their wedding. They were among the first interracial couples to marry in San Francisco after an anti-miscegenation law was repealed in 1949.(Photo/California Labor School Negative Collection)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat and former House speaker, described Griffin as a “champion for working people” in a Facebook post about his death.

“We worked together for decades,” she wrote. “I was honored that Larry helped me win my first election for Congress — and further honored to help him win his last election for pension rights (Prop A). Larry uplifted our most vulnerable and personified #UnionStrong.”

From 2016 to 2020 Griffin was active on JCRC’s public policy committee, which helped set the nonprofit’s policy agenda for the year, and to work on policy advocacy. In September 2021, San Francisco Mayor London Breed appointed Griffin to the city’s Recreation and Park Commission, a position he held until his death.

Gus Vallejo, president of IFPTE Local 21, which counted Griffin as both a member and an officer, recalls how Griffin “made everyone feel at home” when he spoke. “Even if he disagreed with you, you felt great that you had a chat with him,” Vallejo said.

Larry Griffin served on the San Francisco Parks & Recreation Commission from 2021 until his death. (Photo/Jim Watkins)
Larry Griffin served on the San Francisco Parks & Recreation Commission from 2021 until his death. (Photo/Jim Watkins)

Rachel Richman, who was policy and political director for Local 21 from 2009 to 2017, bonded with Griffin over their shared Jewish observance.

“He was definitely a mensch’s mensch,” Richman said of Griffin, noting that he “brought Jewish values to the work” at the union.

For instance, he was analytical when it came to policy work but also “brought an overlay of justice and compassion” that Richman said stemmed from his Judaism.

Over the eight years she worked with him, Richman said they’d often wish each other a “good Shabbos,” or a “Shanah Tovah” during the High Holidays.

“It was an organic part of who he was as a human being,” Richman said. “I miss him a lot.”

Jew,  Jewish,  J. The Jewish News of Northern California
Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.