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What do thousands of faculty, staff, and students, three U-M presidents, and astronaut Jack Lousma have in common?

They were all taught how to use computers by Jim “Griff” Griffin, described in his online profile as a “long-haired bespectacled techno-weenie musician philosopher.”

Hired in 1985 as the third (and last active) member of the fledgling Microcomputer Education Center (MEC), Jim was U-M’s first micro consulting manager. He developed the technical support infrastructures for what is now 4-HELP, the university-wide support hotline. 4-HELP, which was possibly the first organized help line in the United States, has developed gradually over the last 22 years into one of the country’s most successful help lines, handling 38,000+ calls a year.

The ‘Michigan Method’

The success, according to Griffin, is based on what he calls “The Michigan Method,” a support system built around the sharing of information at all levels of support and development chain, decision making at all levels, and veto power by front-line support groups over changes, a concept that has been successfully copied by other parts of campus.

According to a former College of Engineering staffer, “Your method of self-starter volunteerism and sharing as peers… made cross-communication and ‘pollination’ possible in our group and others.”

Other technologies pioneered by Griffin included the use of cell phones for immediate support by experts and free-text databases for instant access to accumulated knowledge.

Jim was the university’s first “Apple support coordinator,” a position he held for seven years. His duties included keeping the campus abreast of the latest Macintosh advances and opportunities, training the campus trainers, and putting on events like System 7 Day, an day of presentations for campus departmental support staff as well as vendor presentations of the leading hardware and software.

MacSig Support Group

Griffin also created and developed MacSig, a mostly online group of Macintosh support personnel from across campus that is best know for almost instant email answers to Macintosh questions in an understandable way. According to Ron Miller, Multimedia Services position lead, “MacSig is one of the best and strongest Macintosh support groups in the country.”

Mr. Griffin was the first microcomputer sales manager, developing a technical listing of available microcomputer equipment so accurate and readable that other universities around the country requested the right to customize and use the price sheets at their institutions.

‘The Doctor’

Always known for his user advocacy, Jim was often referred to as ‘The Doctor’ by his 4-HELP colleagues for his ability to soothe difficult or frustrated callers.

As an Alpha test for Apple and Microsoft, Griffin had input into the Macintosh OS 7 interface as well as with Microsoft Word, where his feature and interface contributions are still visible today. In his exit interview, Griffin was surprised to hear his interviewer recall advice she had received the previous year. “She quoted the line I used in my class verbatim, and I hadn’t taught that class in 12 years,” he says. “It was nice to hear. People valuing my advice so much it’s been passed down through generations of staff. Very fulfilling.”

Remembered for his smile and optimistic attitude, wry if not sometimes over-worked sense of humor, tireless efforts and for never having spoken negatively of user or colleague, Jim Griffin played a key part in helping the campus move into the information age, all the while training generations of future computer experts as they moved out across the country.

In the words of a current Apple-Certified support coordinator, “Jim has been a tremendous resource and inspiration for many people in the U-M community and beyond. With luck, we’ll be able to keep his pioneering, positive culture alive.”