By SUZANNE BACON
Ernest Griffith, 100, one of the individuals who made the Legislative Reference Service (LRS) an effective research tool for Congress, died on Jan. 17.
Mr. Griffith worked at the Library from 1940 to 1958 as the director of LRS, predecessor to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). He was asked by Congress to accept that position, and he took the service to a new dimension of congressional support.
A memorial service was conducted on March 1 in Washington at the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church. At the suggestion of Mr. Griffith's family, remembrances may be made to the Wilderness Society, 900 17th Street N.W., Washington, DC 20006, or to the Griffith Scholarship Fund, c/o the American University School of International Service, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, DC 20016.
Mr. Griffith envisioned LRS as an agency that could support Congress by helping to make it more independent of the sources of information it had been accessing. At that time, Congress had to rely heavily on interest groups and executive offices as information sources.
At the time he left the Library, Griffith was quoted in an Aug. 31, 1958, Washington Post article: "I think I am proudest of the fact that we have operated independently of the executive branch in a technical age. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Congress was becoming more and more dependent on the executive for its know-how. What we have done is make possible the intelligent functioning of the legislative branch without reliance on the executive arm or special interests."
During Mr. Griffith's time at the Library the 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act was passed by Congress, reorganizing and dramatically expanding the LRS, a move that Mr. Griffith was largely responsible for initiating. He later saw more than a 300 percent increase in the number of congressional requests to the LRS for information.
Mr. Griffith was born in Utica, N.Y., in 1896. He graduated from Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y., and then was off to Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar. There he received his doctorate in government. During his life, Mr. Griffith had been a professor or visiting professor at numerous universities.
Prior to his time at the Library, he was the dean of the graduate school and professor of political science at American University. After leaving the Library, he returned to the university as an educator and administrator; he became the first dean of the School of International Service.
In addition to his career accomplishments, he devoted a lifetime of service to an impressive array of agencies and community organizations. He founded the Pioneers, the forerunner of the Cub Scouts. He was the chairman for the inter-university training center for Peace Corps volunteers and for the Council of Social Agencies (the forerunner of the United Way). He was a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, and a delegate to the Third World Council of Churches.
In an article published in the Dec. 30, 1996, issue of the LC Information Bulletin, Daniel P. Mulhollan, current director of CRS, said: "I think it is important to note the role that 'service' plays in the life of Ernest Griffith. To serve the public good has been a fundamental purpose that Ernest Griffith has continually called us to: service to the Congress and to the nation."
Mr. Griffith supported the Wilderness Society, a group created to try to keep the untouched wilderness areas in the United States free from development. When he was in his 70s, he spent much of his time scaling mountain peaks in Alaska. During his 80s and 90s, he tackled the Cascades in Washington and Oregon. "Every summer he'd climb a mountain," said Charles Goodrum, a former Library staffer, "and he didn't stop until he'd checked off every mountain on this continent and many in Europe."
Mr. Griffith's wife of 45 years, Margaret Davenport Griffith, died in 1974, and a daughter, Julia Abernathy, died in 1978. Survivors include four children, Margo Earley, Alison Tennyson, Lawrence Griffith and Stephen Griffith; 13 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Suzanne Bacon is an intern from Brigham Young University working in the Office of Communications.