Gary Grundy lived his life quietly working in the background to ensure that others would reach their full potential.
Grundy, who worked as a business consultant mentoring corporations and nonprofits on how to improve their work processes, died Dec. 10 at his Lakeville home. He was 80. But as his many friends and admirers will tell you, his legacy lives on in the good works of others.
Grundy was born in South Dakota and was raised by his grandmother. He had a physical disability that made walking progressively difficult and a learning disability — likely dyslexia — that led some of his early teachers to say he wouldn't amount to much, said Laura Vannelli, a lawyer at the Mayo Clinic who counts him as her godfather and lifelong mentor.
Vannelli said an aunt of Grundy's pushed him to break through his limitations, and he discovered that hard work, together with careful and creative analysis, could overcome most obstacles. It's a lesson he passed on liberally to colleagues, clients, friends and neighbors.
"He had a positive attitude," said Karen, his wife of 52 years. "He was always trying to get well so he could keep doing all of his things, but his body let him down in the end."
At the age of 3, Grundy began whittling alongside his grandfather, and he went on to become a master woodworker. He carved dozens of clocks, and those he didn't give away hang all around the home he designed after he could no longer make it up and down the stairs at his longtime abode in Apple Valley.
"He'd make beautiful pieces of furniture. The guy could design something just in his head and sketch it out just roughly and make something — a real Renaissance man," said Karl Oestreich, a Mayo Clinic spokesman and longtime friend.
Grundy got his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from North Dakota State University. He went to work at Unisys, which later became Lockheed Martin, and ultimately retired from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Along the way, he earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas.
"Gary was always the guy making introductions — making friends with people who had nothing in common," Vannelli recalled. "He'd facilitate the conversation without driving it. He was incredibly bright. And when the conversation was dying down, he was the person to jump in with a joke or something."
Grundy served twice on the board of Lifeworks, a nonprofit organization serving people with disabilities, and he volunteered more than 300 hours teaching the Lifeworks staff management tools and processes that he called the Business Capability Model, which is outlined in his 2009 book, "The Fifth Breakthrough."
In 2012, Lifeworks gave him its Advocate of the Year award.
Judy M. Lysne, former president and CEO of Lifeworks, wrote in an e-mail that Grundy shared the insights he had gained from his career.
"His work demanded excellent process skills and infinite attention to detail. His humorous explanation for his passion for detail was that 'no one likes it when airplanes fall from the sky,' " Lysne said. "He deeply understood that the individuals doing the work need to be involved in designing the flow of work processes and procedures."
Oestreich, who worked with Grundy at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said he was a champion for his team members. "He was very respectful, but he was never afraid to go toe to toe with a leader," Oestreich said. "He was one of those guys you just gained a lot of energy from."
Services will be held at a later date, his family said.