On humility and gratitude

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Emil Grilli and the statue he sculpted as a tribute to those who have served in the military.
Photo/David Bagdon

By David Bagdon, Publisher

Shrewsbury – There’s so much negativity about the media today…and honestly, some of it is deserved. Instead of focusing on things that enrich lives and support our society, the goal is to chase the shocking news and inflammatory headlines. That’s why I love community journalism…in this field, we get to meet and profile the important people who rarely make the headlines.

Recently, I was going through the files on my computer and found this old photo of Shrewsbury artist Emil Grilli. I never would have met Emil if his lovely wife Mary hadn’t called me some 20-plus years ago. Mary called to say her husband had created a sculpture for the town and was hoping we could do a story to help gain some funding for the enormous cost of having it bronzed.

Before long I was driving over to their tidy home in Shrewsbury, tucked away on a side street near St. John’s High School. The Grillis greeted me warmly and brought me inside to see the sculpture in the basement workshop. Sitting before me was a life size image of U.S. Army infantryman resting his weary feet. The detail was truly stunning, right down to the rumpled uniform, accurate weaponry and even twisted shoelaces. Emil was clearly an accomplished sculptor.

As requested, we did do an article and had the privilege of telling the story behind the couple’s labor of love. As Emil explained, he himself had never been in the military, but he had long felt compelled to make his contribution on behalf of the many soldiers who did serve. Although the Grillis did get some financial support, these were the years before Facebook and GoFundMe and it was much harder to get a cause to go “viral”.

Ultimately, I believe the Grillis did pay the bulk of the huge cost out of their personal savings and the statue was eventually bronzed and installed in downtown Shrewsbury in front of the police station, at 106 Maple Ave., where it resides today.

The photo accompanying this story was taken the day the statue was dedicated during a Veterans Day celebration many years ago. Not knowing this humble man, most of those in attendance were expecting Emil to give a speech on the sculpting process or the motivation behind the donation …but that just wasn’t Emil. When it came his time to speak, Emil walked quietly up to the statue with a tear in his eye…clasped his hands in gratitude as if to say simply “thank you” to the soldier…he then walked back to his seat without uttering a word…he didn’t need to.

Although the Grillis are no longer with us, memories of their humility and patriotism certainly are. If you get the chance this Veterans Day, stop by the statue and see what duty and honor look like. Not just in the image of the soldier, but in the tribute that the Grillis left as a reminder to us all. The fact is…Emil and Mary Grilli are the very type of people that the media should be writing about.