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John Barry Griswell, Sr.


John Barry Griswell, age 71 of Amelia Island, Florida passed away peacefully and unexpectedly at his home on Friday, June 5, 2020 with his wife Michele at his side.

Barry was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Walter F. George High School, received his B.S. degree from Berry College, and M.B.A. from Stetson University. Barry spent his early years in Atlanta with his mother June and three brothers, taking up basketball at the local Boys & Girls Club in fourth grade on his way to his final and graceful height of 6� 10�, and successfully convincing his mother to get him tap dancing lessons at the age of twelve. He went on to play four years of college basketball as a Berry Viking on a full scholarship, being cheered from the sidelines by his classmate and future partner in life Michele. They married in 1970 and lived in Florida while Barry completed his M.B.A., moved briefly back to Atlanta, and then to New Jersey where Michele taught high school and Barry worked for Met Life, eventually becoming CEO of their marketing division.

They moved to Des Moines, Iowa with their two sons in 1988 after Barry accepted a position with Principal Financial Group. His long and successful career culminated with him serving as chairman, president and chief executive officer there before retiring from the company in 2010. He led The Principal through its public offering during the crisis of 9/11 and spearheaded the establishment of the Principal Charity Classic and the Principal River Walk. He served as the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines from 2010 to 2013. He was a member of the boards of directors of Herman Miller, Inc. and Voya Financial at the time of his passing, as well as the chair of the boards of trustees of both Scholarship America and Berry College.

Barry was past chairman of the American Council of Life Insurers, Business Committee for the Arts, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Life Underwriting Training Council Board of Trustees, LIMRA International and the United Way of America National Tocqueville Council, and was past president of the Federation of Iowa Insurers, a past board member of Americans for the Arts and United Way of America, and was a member of the board of governors of Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He was trustee emeritus of Central College in Pella, Iowa. Barry was a recipient of the 2003 Horatio Alger Association Distinguished American Award and a 2003 recipient of the Oscar C. Schmidt Iowa Business Leadership Award. He was inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame, and the Iowa Insurance Hall of Fame, was a 2004 recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the 2006 Business Committee for the Arts Leadership Award, and in 2007 received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Grand View University.

Barry co-authored a Wall Street Journal bestselling book having published The Adversity Paradox: An Unconventional Guide to Achieving Unconventional Business Success in 2009 with his friend Bob Jennings, and enjoyed a speaking career that took him around the country. He and Michele along with fellow members of Ashworth Church founded the Harvest Initiative, an endeavor to bring economic development and increased educational opportunities to the people of Crow Creek County in South Dakota. Barry was honored, along with Principal, with the Corporate Citizenship in the Arts Award from Americans for the Arts. In 2010, Barry received the Black History Month Award from the State of Iowa, and that same year Barry and Michele received the Bravo Award for their contributions to culture and the arts in Greater Des Moines. He was inducted into the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Alumni Hall of Fame in 2014, and was a champion for early childhood education.

He was predeceased by his mother June Goodson whom he adored every day of his life, and Leonard and Johnnie Irwin who made Barry part of their family from the first time he came to their door as a sixteen-year-old rebel to take their daughter Michele on a first date in 1966.

He leaves behind Michele, his beloved bride of nearly fifty years; his sons John Griswell (Abigail) and Michael Griswell; granddaughters, Amelia and Logan, all of whom were his reason for everything; his brothers Rick (Anne), Mark, and Jay (Linda), and many loving nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews who enjoyed wonderful times at the beach and long, loud games of charades with U.B.

The people whom he encountered as his mentors, coaches, teachers, clergy, protectors, team members, inspirations old and young, partners in hi-jinks, beneficiaries of his generous wisdom, and treasured co-workers and friends filled his days with purpose and gratitude from start to finish. He was a beacon of light and a booming laugh, as driven as he was softhearted, as beloved as he was revered. You all gave him a beautiful life.

Barry selflessly wanted a better existence for every person on our planet, and he moved others to want the same by his enduring, unerring example of caring during his too brief time here. Please join his family in keeping him in your prayers with this sentiment � Lord, as Barry shared your gifts with countless of your children in this life, may he share eternal joy with them in the next, and may he keep his arms around us in loving comfort until we meet again.

In life, Barry dedicated his time, talent and treasure to too many deserving causes to mention. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Griswell Family Charitable Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines at

A memorial is being planned for later this summer in Des Moines, service times will be posted in the coming weeks.


Michelle,I know your heart is heavy now but so many are praying for your family now. Barry was indeed a giant of a man,in height and heart. I remember the many conversations we had and his sense of humor, but also his business sense. Please know you are in our thoughts and prayers.

Michelle: I�ve known you and Barry many years. probably since 1962 (school). I hated hearing of Barry�s death and am sending prayers and sympathy your way. May Jesus hold you close and keep you in his arms. This is very sad����.

JILL MCCARTHY June 9, 2020
Michelle I am so sorry to hear about Barry�s passing. Barry was so kind and was always very good to me. Working with you both has been such a pleasure, wow, it has to be close to 15 years that I have worked for you. Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers and not a moment goes by I don�t think of you. Hugs Michelle!

KATHY BLAND June 9, 2020
My deepest condolences to you and your family. I will pray for your peace and comfort. I am Connie�s Morrow neigh and friend. Blessings to you all.

Michelle, Lois and I want to express our sincere condolances. We have fond memories of Barry and you going back many years.

NANCY SCHRUM June 10, 2020
You don�t know me, but I worked at the Principal when he was there. I especially remember during the flood, he visited us and provided leadership. We were on the first few floors of the building. He knew my name, he recognized me. Seems simple enough, but I never forgot. I followed his career, his retirement and always appreciated his leadership, gratitude and example. A great man, will be missed, thank you.

Michelle�I graduated in 1965, but knew Barry and his brothers. Barry was a great basketball player in high school and accomplished so much in his later years. Please know that my heart breaks for you and your families~

The world has lost a truly great and larger than life BIG MAN. He accomplished so many good things and probably would have added a lot more to his list of good deeds had he lived longer. He was in our �area� when he started at Principal so started out as just another guy working hard and knowing everyone around him. It was so cool watching him advance to the top of the ladder while working with us�.never one to be above us. Sympathy goes out to his wonderful wife and family. Cannot imagine the loss they must be feeling at his sudden passing. He was a light to so many people but his legacy will live on forever!

CLAUDIA WATTS June 17, 2020
Without reading his obituary, Barry was a gentle giant. Clearly, there is a lot to take in about your wonderful husband, father and family friend. God needed an angel. Like many this shock is hard to understand. There is a lot to learn from Barry. He was a wonderful and giving individual and I�m better for knowing him and witnessing his manner. His family and friends will remain in my thoughts and prayers. The Adversity Paradox May come off the shelf for another reading. God bless you, Michele.

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