Paul J. Van der Grift

Northeast Harbor

Paul Joseph Van der Grift, 63, joined God’s kingdom on Nov. 30, 2021, surrounded by his adoring family. His illness and ultimate cause of death were due to complications from encephalitis. He leaves behind his beloved wife of 35 years, Joanie, and stepchild Alexis, children Fritz (daughter-in-law Judy), Mimi (son-in-law John), and adored grandchildren Elliott, Fritzie, Isabella and Gordie. He is survived by his loving siblings, Janice (husband, Mike), Donnie (wife, Judy), Steve (wife, Jean), Peggy and their respective families. Paul was also adored by Joanie’s sisters Sydie (late husband Gerrit), Lynn (husband, Jeff), Clara and their families.

His wife, Joanie, was the love of his life. Together as partners, they shared many laughs and created countless wonderful memories. Chief among those was their shared joy of being parents and grandparents. They enjoyed many activities together from golf and tennis, to traveling around the world to studying ballroom dance. Paul was an exceptionally loving father, and his kids grew up with the knowledge and comfort that he truly believed in them and their goodness. He was an omnipresent figure at his son Fritz’s lacrosse games, his daughter Mimi’s horse shows and continued to take great pride in the development of their careers as they grew up. He also developed a deep bond with his stepdaughter, Alexis, over their shared love of theater and the arts. Paul was extremely devoted to his four grandchildren and was tireless in that regard. He spent an inordinate amount of time playing in the sand with Tonka trucks, reading them picture books and swimming in the pool, always doing so with a smile on his face.

Paul was born on March 18, 1958, in Winter Garden, Fla., and spent his youth raising cows for 4-H, riding horses and mini-bikes and playing all manners of sports, excelling particularly at basketball. He was the youngest of five siblings and the family moved throughout Florida during his childhood as his father’s job demanded. His father, Donald, was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service. Donald was instrumental in mapping out soil conservation districts in Lee, Palm Beach and Broward counties. Paul’s beloved mother, Margaret, was a Realtor, volunteer nurse and a loyal parishioner. Paul was deeply fond of his native state and enjoyed camping and fishing as a child. He also had a lifetime love of dogs, in particular German shepherds. Paul owned German shepherds throughout his life, including Cubby, Dutch and Max.

Paul’s professional interests comprised of acting and documentary filmmaking. In 1981, he received a bachelor’s degree in international affairs, with a minor in social work from Florida State University. Paul graduated in 1990 from New York University’s Film Intensive Program, subsequently founding Thunderhead Productions Inc. Since then he produced, directed and wrote numerous projects, working with such historical figures as Mohammad Ali, Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, Althea Gibson and Billie Jean King. His social work experience included work in eldercare, grief and crisis counseling.

Paul was also a Certified Enneagram Teacher in the Narrative Tradition. The Enneagram is a system of nine personality types combining traditional wisdom with modern psychology — a powerful tool for understanding ourselves and the people in our lives. He used it as a teaching and learning tool, working with parents, college students, university administrators, athletic coaches and teams, couples, musicians, church staff, philanthropists and his family and friends. In 2013, he co-founded Spiritually Aware Leadership Training Inc. (S.A.L.T. Inc.), a not-for-profit corporation that used the Enneagram as a tool to provide faith-based professional development to individuals and groups.

Paul was a devout Christian and demonstrated consistent service to those less fortunate throughout his life. Quite simply, he took joy in others’ successes far more than his own accomplishments. He was always a champion for those in need and their needs were always more important than his own. Paul showed support to many causes and charities to which he devoted much of his time and energy. Above all, his primary focus was serving as president of the board of directors of First Serve, a nonprofit that equips and trains outstanding high school students to mentor children in their own communities. He believed fiercely in the notion that at-risk youth have a much higher chance of success if they have the right role models to look up to. Ruth Alixe, one of the First Serve students, said the following about him: “Coach Paul was more than just a mentor. He was someone I could always count on when needed. What I didn’t see in me, Paul did. He saw a light in me that I didn’t realize I had. Because of his guidance and constant support, I know the sky is the limit for me. He worked tirelessly to make sure that First Serve kids like me had the resources to succeed. Without his love and support, college would have just been a dream.”

The testimony above is not isolated to his students at First Serve. Many considered him a second father and have referenced the profound impact he had on their lives. The positive impact that he had on so many people is incalculable. He simply lived life for others.

At the time of his death, Paul was a member of the following clubs and organizations: Palm Beach Civic Association (member/director), Bath and Tennis Club, Everglades Club, Sailfish Club (past board member), Northeast Harbor Tennis and Swim Club and Northeast Harbor Golf Club (past board member) and the Pot and Kettle Club.

Although his family is beyond devastated, we remain steadfast in our belief that Paul is in Heaven among the band of angels, of which he was already one on Earth. We are all committed to carrying on his legacy with the same goodness and grace that he exhibited his entire life.

A memorial service was held on Friday, Dec. 10, at First Presbyterian Church, 717 Prosperity Farms Road, North Palm Beach, FL 33408

In lieu of flowers, the family humbly requests that donations in Paul’s memory be made to First Serve on its website at or mailed to: First Serve, P.O. Box 1353, West Palm Beach, FL 33402.

Rest in peace, Paul, aka “Papa.”

Know when to pay your respects.