A fighter for others

Standing up to a bully as a youth put Larry Greig on a lifetime path of service

Larry Greig lived many lives. At various times he was a member of the RCMP, a soldier, physical fitness instructor, an English and history teacher, restaurateur, businessman and pastor. That's on top of being a brother, father, husband, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Although born in New Westminster, Greig spent his childhood in Port Alice.

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An incident in his youth set about a series of events that would determine his path in life, his wife recalls.

"Larry got a talking-to by the police after a fight," says Joan Werrun, his wife of 35 years. "Turns out Larry was fighting with the local bully, who was picking on other boys. The constable suggested to Larry that if he wanted to protect other people, he should join the police - and that's just what he did."

In 1948, the 20-year-old Greig became the first person from Port Alice to serve with the RCMP. With the outbreak of the Korean War, Greig joined the army in 1952. He never saw combat because the conflict was over by the time he finished training. But he stayed, retiring after 19 years, from the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery in 1971 with the rank of captain.

The boy who took the bully to task turned into a young man who would hone his skills in the boxing ring, becoming the RCMP middleweight boxing champion.

Recognizing his physical attributes, the army sent Greig for further training at the British Army School of Physical Training, where he graduated at the top of his class.

"Larry said it was a very tough course," Werrun says. "He said that at the end of the training, he was considered one of the fittest men in the world."

When he returned, he became a physical training instructor for the army. He kept up his boxing, becoming the light-heavyweight champion of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Greig met Marion Kay Ferr, his future wife, in Regina. They were married in 1951 and had five children.

The young family moved to Victoria in 1953 when Greig became the first director of physical and recreation training at Royal Roads Military College in Colwood. They lived on the grounds for three years.

"He promoted physical fitness all his life," recalls Debbra Greig, one of his daughters. "He taught us how to swim at the college swimming pool."

He became so good at swimming, he became the first Canadian Army scuba diver on the west coast.

During his time in Colwood, he lobbied to allow neighbourhood children access to the Royal Roads pool. He also persuaded the college to allow the RCMP and local First Nations children to use the gymnasium and soccer fields for physical fitness activities.

"This was in the 1950s. The only public pool was in Victoria. It was a long way for kids to travel for a swim," Debbra says. "He was successful in getting the college to relax their rules. This provided the opportunity for thousands of children from the West Shore to learn how to swim."

Greig was also a driving force behind the construction of the first Juan de Fuca swimming pool in 1967. His service to the community was recognized with the Canadian Centennial Medal of Merit the same year.

His last posting was in Ottawa, where he promptly trained as a paratrooper.

After his retirement from the army, Greig pursued various business ventures.

Retirement also reawakened a lifelong desire to serve in the clergy. He attended the Vancouver School of Theology, was ordained as a deacon of the Anglican Church in 1987 and as a priest in 1988.

"He always said his job was to serve," Werrun remembers.

He carried on pastoral duties for seven years at St. Paul's in Nanaimo and St. Mary Magdalene on Mayne Island.

He retired from the parish in 1993 but remained active as the padre for the Royal Canadian Legion and as a chaplain for the RCMP Veterans' Association until two months before his death.

As a minister, he was "most pleased" to preside over the weddings of his grandchildren and the christenings of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Larry Lionel Greig was born May 4, 1928, in New Westminster. He died in his sleep at home, with his wife by his side, Jan. 31, 2012, in Victoria.

Island Lives is an occasional series celebrating the lives of Island people who have died recently. The series focuses not on the famous, but on our neighbours who have led interesting lives or made a difference in their communities. If you know of someone whose life should be celebrated, let us know by email at features@timescolonist.com or by mail at 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, B.C. V8T 4M2.

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