By Joe Nabbefelt
It had all the appearances of just another bankerly ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the completion of a Mukilteo apartment building–until one of the suits stood up and proceeded to read a poem he had written for the occasion.
One of the project’s developers, Fred Grimm ’78, sang of families who lived and worked there in the old days. He imagined the lives that would be lived in the new apartment building, and told of his joy in helping put it all together.
Some developer. Never mind that Grimm’s also a lawyer and big enough to have played offensive tackle on his Wenatchee high school football team and at Puget Sound.
Grimm is co-owner, with John Goodman, of Triad Development, which also recently turned Seattle’s Pier 70 into offices. He is deep into planning the controversial, 13-story Colman Tower office building near Pioneer Square and is putting together half of the Wallingford Steps project, north of Gasworks Park.
"When you think of stories on Fred, they’re not so much funny as kind of touching," said Stan Harrelson, president of the company that will manage the new building for Grimm and Goodman. "At the opening of the Mukilteo apartment building … Fred brought his grandmother, who was in a wheelchair. It was a chance to be with her. He was holding her hand, and he read a poem about building the project."
Grimm attended UW Law after graduating from UPS, and gave lawyering a two-year try before shifting in 1984 to development at Triad.
Working as a fledgling corporate, real estate and tax lawyer, "I felt like the manager of a baseball team," Grimm said. "You get to be part of the team but never get to swing the bat." He hadn’t intended to practice law anyway, but rather to round himself out, to "do something entrepreneurial, so I wasn’t one of those disillusioned by the practice of law. I was never illusioned."
A friend introduced Grimm to a young apartment manager, John Goodman, who was ready to add development to his repertoire.
The pair come across as a classic partnership: the patient, introverted detail man and the flamboyant idea generator and salesman.
"Someone who knows John and me said that if we were the Wright brothers trying to invent the first airplane, I would spend half my time contemplating whether humans were meant to fly," Grimm said. "John would be selling tickets to the moon."
Grimm is also known on his own, however, as an entertaining public speaker with an easy humor and a tender touch that his stabs at poetry reflect. He married his wife, Margaret, seven years ago and they have two young daughters.
Those who know Grimm uniformly say the Boy Scouts played a big role in shaping his character. Grimm’s father worked in scouting throughout his career, including as executive for North Central Washington. The family spent each summer at a camp on the Canadian border.
"I spent the first 15 summers of my life there," Grimm said, and each year since then he spends at least a day there. "I almost missed a year, the one I got married. So we cross-country skied in on New Year’s Eve Day to keep my streak intact."
Grimm figures his poems, mostly humorous tributes to read at weddings and birthdays, started with his grandmother, who died just short of her 105th birthday. As she grew older, Grimm realized she didn’t need things like birthday gifts. She also retained a remarkable memory and displayed it by reciting whole poems she had memorized nearly a century before. So he memorized a poem and recited it to her as a birthday gift.
The poem was Rudyard Kipling’s "If," which lays out the virtues of a real man, such as integrity, honesty and tenderness: "If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating … ."
Grimm’s grandmother corrected a line he misstated as he recited it for her. The next birthday he took matters a step further and wrote the poem he recited on her birthday. And he has been writing poems ever since.
This story is excerpted from an article that originally appeared in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce and appears with permission.