Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of our founder, Jean Griswold, who was born on July 30th, 1930 in New York City. Jean started Griswold Home Care with a heartfelt desire to help people. She is our lodestar, and her legacy is what we and our franchisees aspire to live up to on a daily basis.
In January 1982, Jean was saddened by the bitter news that an elderly woman in her congregation had died at home after ceasing to eat and drink. She felt this tragedy could have been easily prevented with even a small amount of companionship and in-home care. Driven to act, Jean assembled a group of competent, caring individuals to help other older parishioners avoid a similar fate. That system became the seed of her life’s work: a national organization recognized as the oldest non-medical home care franchise company and one of the first companies to offer 24-hour care to disabled, injured, elderly, or at-risk individuals.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1969 at the age of 39, Jean understood that assistance need not compromise independence. She had a sense of empathy for individuals needing home care support. Jean’s experiences helped her appreciate the job of a caregiver, and her disability helped her understand the needs of a client.
“I began this company because I realized that there were desperate pleas of the elderly not to be institutionalized,” Jean said. “They wanted to stay in their own homes, they wanted to avoid nursing homes, and they needed help. And I knew caring people who needed jobs. I’ve dedicated my life to helping others. It’s not a job for me. It’s a way of life.”
One of the gifts Jean was blessed with that made her such an exceptional businesswoman was her ability to read people. She could sit down with someone and decide within a few minutes if she wanted to do business with them.
“As soon as she saw me and I spoke a few words, she had already decided to hire me based on what she saw in those first few minutes,” said Sheilah Johnson, a Care Coordinator in Griswold’s Lower Pennsylvania office. “She didn’t feel a need to dig into my background. That’s what was so interesting about her. She could read people really well. With that first office, she put an amazing group of people together, and we’re still all friends. I’ve never met anyone like that since.”
Jean also stressed treating everyone she met with the utmost respect. She taught all of her employees to address people by their proper titles, be that Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc. It is a level of respect that clients appreciate, and it goes a long way in the homecare business. That respect does not pertain just to clients – Jean extended it to her caregivers as well. She would always tell her staff to stand up and greet any caregiver that came into the office, and would watch to see if staff stood up to greet them and make them feel welcome. If they did not do this, Jean was sure to mention it in the next morning meeting. She wanted the caregivers to know that they were part of the family. Any caregiver that came in would end up in Jean’s office so she could say hello and have a conversation with them, which was her unique way of building relationships with them. When she passed, may of the caregivers knew who she was not because she was the founder, but because they had gotten to know her personally.
One of the most memorable things about Jean was the way she looked for potential in everyone. From that first office, two caregivers were promoted to office positions based on the potential Jean saw in them. One became the best recruiter Griswold has ever had, and the other became the Director of a Griswold office. Jean gave them opportunities to do things other than caregiving solely based on the potential she saw within each of them.
“The team Jean built for her office was amazing, due to her ability to ascertain talent and perceive people’s gifts. It was one of the best teams that came through Griswold, and we could have opened our own office and been wildly successful,” Michelle Still, Regional Director of the Lower Pennsylvania office, reminisced. “However, we all chose to stay with Jean because of the connection we all had with her. Many have since retired, while only a few left for other reasons. Three of those employees are still with Griswold today.”
Jean passed away on January 28, 2017 at the age of 86. She was an inspirational woman and entrepreneur, and her legacy lives on in each and every individual Griswold Home Care touches. She founded the company based on caring, and that never ceased for her, nor will it for us. Though she is gone, her commitment to dignity lives on, because dignity is timeless. That’s our Griswoldness, and what motivates us to treat our clients and caregivers with the respect and dignity Jean would expect of us.