Wilfred Griggs and Three tales of trust

Egypt, ancient land of mystery, intrigue, and adventure.

It might well have been a scene from an Indiana Jones adventure except this was real, not scripted. A roomful of archaeologists gathered to meet and make a good impression on the Egyptian director of antiquities and his staff. At stake was a first time in history opportunity. The Egyptian government was sending on tour to five fortunate cities their precious museum exhibit of Pharaoh Ramses II. whose name means, “Born of Ra, the sun god,” Ramses, the Great warrior king and master builder of monuments that bear his name. Although some of them bear it because he had the previous builders name ground off the stones, and his own inscribed.

And like some of us, he had slipped a little from his prime. But he still had what we call in the entertainment industry, marquee value. Some experts believe he was the Pharaoh to whom Moses declared, “Let my people go.”

The royal cadaver would grace only five museums on his grand tour, and every metropolis in North America was hoping to be among the chosen.

The Egyptians were understandably careful even suspicious of these foreigners. Who can blame them? They had been ripped off for centuries by grave robbers to foreign governments.

The representatives from great cities of the United States and Canada had their presentations and credentials ready to display.

The solemn and dignified officials entered and scanned the room. Suddenly they saw a familiar figure. “Wilfred,” they exclaimed in a chorus and moved across the room to embrace him. The other delegations took a deep breath, scratched off one, and hoped to be one of the remaining four lucky cities.

Wilfred Griggs’ warm welcome came because in all the years he had been digging for archaeological treasures in Egypt, he had been impeccably honest. They trusted him.

And so it came to pass that Ramses II was hosted by, if I recall correctly, Toronto, Canada, Los Angeles California, two other metropolises I can’t remember, and by Wilfred Griggs. Following the announcements of the winning cities, and Wilfred, one Egyptian said quietly to him, “Wilfred, this will make you a very rich man.” He was potentially correct. The exhibit was Wilfred’s. He could have put it in a conference center, pocketed the profits and retired. But the same integrity that won him the prize dictated what he would do with it. He turned it over to his employer Brigham Young University. Wilfred didn’t tell me that story, others did.

Speaking of honesty and integrity, the star of the show might have taken a few lessons from the humble archaeologist. Chiseling your name on to other people’s work only reminds us that politics hasn’t changed very much over the millennia.

But then things apparently haven’t change much at the other end of the social ladder. Wilfred told me of the time he was directing a dig at a large ancient Christian Coptic cemetery. They found pottery shards, and bones, but not much else. Every grave had been looted centuries before. But good men like Wilfred get special help in their work. He had a hunch. On one looted grave he had his crew dig under the top grave. Eureka! They discovered an untouched grave of a beautiful young woman of some nobility. Nobody breathed as they gently loosened and removed the lid of the sarcophagus. It was a spiritual moment. She had been interred with obviously great love. Her dear ones had placed her in hiding hoping the grave robbers would only defile the tomb above and move on. Their plan had worked. Even the flowers placed on her breast were intact.

Back to the subject of honesty and trust, as the archaeological team gently slid the casket out of the tube like vault in which it had been resting. As was the practice the casket was covered with black pitch to seal it. But as they slid it out, they were surprised to see that the pitch stopped about a third of the way up the casket. For a moment Wilfred and the crew were puzzled. Then it hit them and a burst of laughter broke the solemnity. Obviously the burial crew had painted part of the casket that would show, and then said, “Hey, it’s too much trouble to paint the whole thing. Just shove it in the vault. Who’s going to know the difference?

Moral: Let us all be honest and trustworthy like Wilfred Griggs.. Someone may be checking our work sometime in the next three or four thousand years.

Oh, and did I mention, Dr. Griggs also has a sense of humor.