The Haiti earthquake claimed the life of Andrew Grene, but his legacy lives on through his twin brother – the Prodigals' Gregory Grene - and a foundation for the children of Haiti.
For 44-year-old Gregory Grene, of the popular band The Prodigals, nothing will ever be the same. His twin brother, Andrew, a well-known UN political affairs officer, perished in the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January. Gregory headed to another island, Ireland, to help bury his brother in Belturbet, County Cavan.
The Prodigals' raucous funk and Trad-fused Celtic Rock has won them legions of fans in Boston, and Gregory Grene's vocals and dazzling skills on the button accordion have mesmerized listeners on both sides of the Atlantic. Through e-mail to the BIR, however, Gregory reflects that no matter how much success he and the band have earned, all pales in comparison to the huge humanitarian legacy that Andrew leaves behind.
For much of their boyhood years, Gregory and Andrew, born in Chicago, lived in County Cavan, where their family moved when the brothers were five months old. Gregory's musical talent surfaced early. Gregory relates: "I divided my time growing up between the two places, studying accordion with Sean Donaghue in Ireland and Liz Carroll in Chicago. At Trinity College Dublin I spent my time hanging out in the Buttery Bar, where I ended up founding the Dublin University Traditional Music Society."
Andrew's career path took a worldwide arc. Fluent in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, he worked as a speechwriter for U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and eventually became a political affairs officer. As a member of peacekeeping operations in such flashpoints as the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, he proved himself a valiant and dedicated negotiator between combatants. In East Timor, Andrew Grene was a pivotal figure in negotiating the peaceful milestone transition of power from Indonesia to independent East Timor, where years of savage warfare had reigned.
In his final posting, Andrew poured his passion and hard-won expertise into bettering life for the people of Haiti, an island, his brother notes, that the UN political officer quickly came to love. Along with his twin brother, Andrew Grene leaves his wife, Jennifer, and their children Patrick, Alex, and Rosamund, and his mother Ethel.
In trying to cope with Andrew's death, Gregory Grene reflects: "The only consolation for the insane bitterness of the loss is the extraordinary beauty and love with which he endowed my life, as he did every one of his family, every day.
While I wrote songs, he created peace. I think there is no question which is the nobler, greater mission.... He, along with many of his colleagues, and many more of the Haitian people, lost his life in that tragedy."
Gregory Grene and the family, determined to carry on Andrew's legacy and to aid Haiti, have created a foundation to ensure that neither Andrew nor the unspeakable suffering the earthquake has wreaked upon the island will be forgotten. Said Gregory: "We have set up a charity in Andrew's name, dedicated to educating the children in Haiti, and to helping set up micro businesses that can mean the difference between providing for a family and a yawning poverty that is beyond our experience. It is called the Andrew Grene Foundation."
Remembering the deep bond between the brothers, Gregory recalls that whenever Andrew came to see The Prodigals perform, he "instantly became the fan of fans, grinning broadly and gazing up at me - may God bless his kindness! - as though I were a paragon that shone a light across the world.
"I will never feel the like of that gaze again, but please God may I carry it in my heart forever."
For the people of Haiti and for the Grene family, Andrew's light will continue to shine through the foundation. The Prodigals will soon be back onstage, as Andrew would no doubt have wanted it to be.
For more on this story, check the website for the Andrew Grene Foundation: andrewgrene.org.