Shortly after he retired from his nine-year term as president of The Citadel, Maj. Gen. James A. Grimsley Jr. told The Post and Courier what he would like his epitaph to read:
“I fought a good fight, finished my course, and I’ve kept my faith.”
The general did all that, and more.
His Army career, begun in 1942 when he graduated from The Citadel, spanned 33 years and was distinguished by two Silver Star medals for gallantry in action; four Bronze Star medals for valor; the Distinguished Service Medal; four Legion of Merit awards; and three Purple Hearts.
His fellow officers remember him as a man of integrity, honesty and sincerity — qualities that he took with him when he retired from the Army in 1975 to become vice president for administration and finance at The Citadel.
At the time he was asked to become interim president, The Citadel family was unhappy. President James B. Stockdale had resigned under pressure from the Board of Visitors, which didn’t support the admiral’s plans to change the fourth class system.
Gen. Grimsley seemed to have the respect and trust of the board and the student body almost immediately, and he was soon named president on a permanent basis.
In that position, he embodied the very things he wanted to inculcate in Citadel students. Physically, he was trim, fit and always spit-and-polished. He was ethical, disciplined and devoted to his country, his family and his alma mater.
During his tenure there, a black cadet was hazed inappropriately. Gen. Grimsley’s response was to address the problem openly and to redouble his efforts to see that Citadel cadets lived up to the higher-than-average standards that people have for them.
Alex Grimsley stressed academics and leadership, and when he retired, he became one of only three Citadel presidents to receive the title “president emeritus.”
Beyond his professional accomplishments, the general was a hard-working, dependable and able civic leader who gave his time and talents to numerous organizations.
Gen. James A. Grimsley Jr. was the essence of what he expected his troops and his students to be. Those he led in war and in peace, in school and in the community, are the beneficiaries of his life extremely well lived.