Traversing the Law: We All Follow the Footsteps
We are lucky if we have a great mentor, luckier still if we can be one. Remembering Dr. David Griffin, PLS, PE, PhD.
I came to know David Griffin in 1997, when I moved my family from Tampa to Birmingham to join a national engineering and surveying firm that had opened its first office east of the Mississippi just the year before. I have forgotten exactly how David and I were introduced, but I do remember one of our first email exchanges. He wanted to know what to do with the half-mile post in the state of Alabama. At the time, I did not realize that this was a trick question. So, I dug into my copy of the 1973 BLM Manual and gave him the textbook procedure for handling the half-mile post ... as if he didn’t already have that information. I also did not know that he was either in the doctoral program at the University of Alabama or soon would be thereafter, working on — you guessed it — the half-mile post. In 1999, he published his doctoral dissertation on “Retracement of Public Land Surveys in Alabama: The Half Mile Post Dilemma.” Needless to say, I was not a cited source in his dissertation.
Dr. Griffin was a steadfast supporter of the profession, an influential member of the Alabama Society of Professional Land Surveyors (ASPLS), he was an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in the Engineering program for over 25 years, and he later became an associate professor at Troy University in the geomatics program where he served another seven years. Dr. Griffin was turning out research on surveying and surveying history, and was a mentor to many young people who came through both the UAB and Troy programs. Among his many responsibilities, I know that he was training the students how to retrace property boundaries. That doesn’t happen enough, but it was happening at Troy. Dr. Griffin was a tremendous support and help to me personally during my tenure as president of ASPLS in 2014.
That initial email began a nearly 20-year ongoing discourse between the two of us on the subject of retracement surveying, not limited to just Alabama. Sometime in 1999 or 2000, he gave me a spare copy of his dissertation. My only regret is that I didn’t make him sign it for me, but I was in law school at the time so I tucked it neatly away on my bookshelf for future reference. It wasn’t long, however, before I was pulling it back off the shelf, marking it up, highlighting it and copying quotes out of it (all within the fair-use doctrine, of course). I used it as a trusted reference, along with court cases and other secondary sources, for a paper I was working on that would eventually become a publication of my own: “The Pincushion Effect; The Multiple Monument Dilemma in American Land Surveying.” Dr. Griffin is cited in all three of my books.
Dr. Griffin passed away at the young age of 61, this past January at UAB Hospital, after a heroic fight with cancer. He is survived by his mother, four sisters and a bunch of nieces. I understand, with a wife, a daughter and three granddaughters, I’m surrounded by women myself.
I can safely say that, besides law school, Dr. Griffin was one of the biggest influences in my metamorphosis from a “deed-staking,” “section-sizing,” “don’t-know-what-I’m-doing” surveyor, to a true retracement surveyor whose only job is to find the original footsteps, not create new ones. Since 2004, with the help of Dr. Griffin’s encouragement and influence, I have literally crossed the country from Key West, Fla., to Fairbanks, Ala., and San Diego, Calif., to Holton, Maine (not every stop in between of course), talking to surveyors about the fundamental principles of retracement surveying. The inspiration for finding the truth and shattering the mythology on this subject came directly from Dr. Griffin and his influential treatise. Oh, and the answer to that initial question — well — it all depends!
Rest in peace my friend, you are in a better place now.
Then I looked up, and there before me was a
man with a measuring line in his hand.
I asked, “Where are you going?”
He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem,
to find out how wide and how long it is.”
– Zechariah, 2:1-2
Neither the author nor POB intend this column to be a source of legal advice for surveyors or their clients. The law changes and differs in important respects for different jurisdictions. If you have a specific legal problem, the best source of advice is an attorney admitted to the bar in your jurisdiction.