All Roads Lead Through Norris

The Grinnell connection
Bret Gifford P’23

I was outside Norris Hall during New Student Orientation last August when I met volunteer greeters Anne Graham Suggs ’74 and Richard Hahn ’65, who asked me how I had heard of Grinnell. I first heard of Grinnell when I met Jeff Taft-Dick ’73, who worked for the United Nations World Food Program. In 1985, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania, a former French colony in West Africa, living in Touil, a remote village on the edge of the Sahara Desert, hundreds of miles from electricity, plumbing, or marked roads. When Jeff’s U.N. Land Rover drove in, it was my first contact with the outside world since arriving in my village.

I recently had lunch with Jeff, who confirmed that our conversation in Touil went more or less as follows:

“Etes-vous français?” I asked.

“Non, américain.”

“Oh, good. Me too. We can speak English.”

“Where are you from?” he asked.


“Before my family moved to Vermont, I went to high school for three years in Massachusetts,” he told me.

“What town?” I asked.


“No kidding!” I said. “My father teaches history at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School.”

“What’s his name?”

“Mr. Gifford.”

“Jim? Jim Gifford?” Jeff asked.


“He convinced me to try the pole vault, and I broke my arm!”

I returned from Mauritania, went to law school, and got a job in Manchester, New Hampshire. On Columbus Day weekend in 1994, my best friend from law school flew up from Baltimore to go hiking in the White Mountains. During dinner at the Greenleaf Hut on Mount Lafayette, we met a man from Manchester named Jack.

“You’re single, you live in Manchester, and you like to hike?” he asked me. “Well, I’ve got the woman for you!”

That woman became my wife, Doreen Doyle Gifford ’86. Jack said I could repay him by giving him our firstborn son. We have one daughter, Maeve ’23, who is a first-year student at Grinnell. She lives in Norris, where Jeff and Doreen lived in their first years.

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