“AJ,” Arthur John Greif, died on May 31, 2022, in the MDI Hospital ICU, Bar Harbor, after valiantly fighting Stage IV metastatic pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cancer. Art’s hopes, though, live on for others with these devastating cancers, and that they will defy their prognoses and live long enough for a cure.
Art refused to let his grim prognosis take control of his life. In spite of his endless treatments, and the pandemic, life went on as usual for Art: lawyering, cycling and hiking with his beloved Donna Mae and reading literature and international and sports, i.e., baseball, news. He often would indulge in his penchant for writing sonnets about Donna and their cats.
Art was the quintessential trial attorney. As Lincoln Millstein stated in his Quietside Journal, “Art Greif was a celebrated man of the law, one of the most accomplished in Maine.” Art balanced the scales of justice for clients who suffered discrimination because of their race, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disabilities. He successfully transformed the interpretation of Maine law so no pregnant patient suffering symptoms could be turned away at hospital emergency rooms.
Though arguably Art was one of Maine’s best civil plaintiff’s attorneys, he also won 12 out of 13 criminal felony defenses. Famously, Art would find a way through the proverbial wall for his clients. He once tried a case three times before winning. An FBI expert who had testified in 36 other states said that Art’s cross-examination of him was the hardest and most skilled he had ever undergone.
In grade school, family and teachers recognized that Art was gifted with “a beautiful mind.” Most importantly he loved to learn. As a junior, he was awarded the Rensselaer Medal, and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist. At his high school graduation, faculty selected him as the outstanding male student in English, history and science. But his humor, kindness and generosity were as indelibly Art as his academic abilities. Art graduated (dean’s list) from William and Mary’s honor program with a B.A. in government. He took a year off to work two jobs to pay for law school. In 1977, he graduated cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law with a J.D. He also served as associate editor of the Law Review.
While studying law, Art discovered a new love: long-distance running and cycling. By 1980 he had run the first of nine marathons, including two Bostons, as well as taking countless 100-mile bike rides. Art’s passion for cycling carried him to the end of his life: he had cycled on the day he was admitted to the ER, May 25, completing 2,175 miles for the year 2022, and sadly, died six days later.
The state of Maine, where Art spent summers at the family camp on Lake Androscoggin, beckoned him to return, and he did. On June 6, 1985, Art met the real love of his life in Rangeley, his future wife, Donna, a kindred spirit who also cycled, ran and traveled long distances here and abroad.
So, the bookends of Art and Donna spent the next 37 years stuffing their bookshelves with journals, photos and mementos of their adventures in bicycling through the high mountain ranges and passes of much of the world. With Donna, Art cycled across the Andes of Argentina and Chile three times, through the wilds of Patagonia, the Straits of Magellan, traversed the North and South Islands of New Zealand, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Hawaii, the Japanese Alps, the Canadian Rockies, through Art’s beloved Pyrenees and Picos, and the European Alps of France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Countless tours were done in the Maritimes, Quebec and New England. In his 50s and 60s, Art was still powering up the highest and longest mountain climbs of the great stage races: the Tour de France, the Giro and the Vuelta. Even with loaded bike panniers, he could keep up with cyclists half his age. But he would always wait patiently and proudly for Donna to finish the climb, camera in hand. Of special note, Art, with Donna struggling behind, zipped up three of the most agonizing climbs for cyclists: the Mortirolo, the Angliru and Zoncolan, as well as doing five Mount Washington hill climbs. Locally, Art loved his evening rides with the Pat’s Bike Shop group, in the Bangor area.
Art and Donna’s little house below Cadillac in Bar Harbor was a dream come true. If one followed the walking paths out back, one stepped into a profusion of perennials, shrubs and trees. It became a peaceful sanctuary for pollinators and people. For Art and Donna, though, Acadia National Park was the joyful sanctuary of cycling, running, kayaking, hiking and the healing place for weary bodies and spirits.
Enter a half-acre power substation with towering transformers and transmission lines into the backyards of neighbors. Thank to Art’s legal acumen, and the work of an outraged but savvy group of local residents, the power company was convinced to relocate and build an elegant compact substation, transformers and lines buried, disguised as a Gilded Age carriage house.
Again, thanks to Art’s legal skills and a larger group of talented neighbors, plans for a half-mile-long pier for berthing mega cruise ships in Bar Harbor were thwarted. Thanks to Art and a group of local champions of justice, the ultimate form of citizen democracy, the annual town meeting and the right of voters to pursue legal changes through the citizens’ initiative process, were protected.
Art did years of this complex local litigation for no fees. Sticking up for his neighbors and having justice served was the best compensation. Concurrent with Art’s cancer diagnosis, the pandemic spread into our country. Like many immunosuppressed patients, the COVID risk was great. Even vaccines and boosters produced no evidence of antibody response for Art. Continued isolation and visiting outdoors took its toll on Art, a real people person. However, thanks to our group of innovative friends, Art had a special surprise for what turned out to be his last birthday. “The Group” drove by our house, honking and hollering, in outrageous outfits. Tears rolled down the face of a man who seldom cried.
Art was born on July 16, 1951, the youngest of six children. His parents, Alice Peavey Greif and Charles E. Grief, and his in-laws, Wendy Gary Karlson and Gustaf A. Karlson, predeceased him. With over a hundred nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and nephews, Art lost count, and then the great-greats started arriving. He particularly missed his five brothers-in-law and one sister-in-law, all of whom died of devastating illness before him. Art’s deep hope is that his surviving siblings and sisters and brothers-in-law will live long, healthy lives to cherish these burgeoning generations of Greifs and Karlsons.
Art and Donna are forever grateful to MDI Hospital for their top-notch skills and big hearts in caring for him throughout his two and one half years of surviving cancer, whether he was in the Oncology Clinic, outpatient or the ER. Of special note is the ICU team, who let us make Art’s ICU room our final home, if only for a few days. Art not only received great care, each staff member was there for us in the time of our greatest need. Art’s frail condition and COVID precautions greatly restricted visits, but our Maine niece was allowed to stay, and this, along with short visits with a few close friends, made us feel our whole family and circle was there, too.
We’d appreciate donations in Art’s memory to the MDI Hospital, Maine Community Foundation and the YWCA MDI.
Services, to be announced, will be held in late spring 2023 on Cape Cod at the Orleans Cemetery.
Condolences may be sent to Donna Karlson and Family ℅ Nickerson Funeral Home, 77 Eldredge Park Way, Orleans, MA 02653, or online at their website.