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Ashley Atkinson
Editor, Branch Out

Our Library, Our Stories: Bill Grandy

Our Library, Our Stories:] Bill Grandy

By Ashley Atkinson, Marketing and Communications Specialist

Learn about the many facets and faces of FCPL and our community — one story at a time.

In Branch Out’s “Our Library, Our Stories” section, we spotlight one person’s story about life and the library in each issue with the hope that it helps us all get to know and connect with each other just a little bit better. Our latest story comes to us from Bill Grandy, a page at Burke Centre Library.

Before he roamed the shelves, Burke Centre Library page Bill Grandy had a (slightly) more dangerous career: teaching sword fighting. As a Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) and modern Olympic-style fencing instructor for twenty years, the people Bill trained ranged from local enthusiasts and sportspersons to high-level competitors. He has taught the royal princes and princesses of the United Arab Emirates, as well as dueled the then-president of the World Bank, a former Olympic saber champion. “[He was] probably in his 70s or 80s....I made the mistake of believing I should go easy on such an elderly man. He destroyed me,” says Bill.

Bill’s journey into the fighting arts began as a child with modern style fencing at a local rec center. As a teen and into college, he also practiced other styles of sword fighting and dabbled with stage combat before discovering an online community of people who were trading scans of old fencing books. “I was fascinated by this and dove in,” explains Bill. A few years later, he was recruited by a coach to teach part-time at a fencing school, developing a HEMA program and, soon, he had a full-blown career on his hands.

With such an extensive background in an exciting field, it may be surprising how Bill found his way to the library. Having retired from instructing in 2020, he has spent most of his time since as a stay-at-home dad. Once his son was old enough to attend school, Bill began to seek out something to keep him busy and knew exactly where to start. “I love books,” he says. “I don't just love reading them. The texture, the smell, everything. So...the library was the obvious place for me to look.”

Books also serve as the biggest crossover between Bill’s former career and his current role. He says that without books, his specialty of swordsmanship likely would not have been possible as it is the historical records that have preserved the art. “Although my job is clearly very different these days on the surface," he says, “both revolve around these amazing objects that human beings, for centuries, have been using to take their ideas out of their brains and press them to paper for others to share.”

Though he no longer has much time to teach, Bill is still happy to share his knowledge with others on occasion. In honor of Burke Centre Library’s 15th anniversary last year, Bill hosted a program at the branch where he demonstrated sword fighting and shared examples of historic items and fencing treatises. While the demos are certainly the draw for most people, Bill says one of his favorite parts is those who come to his presentations because they are interest in recreating lost arts by using books. “One person has reached out to me for advice on the recreation of historical pottery and advice on how to translate newly discovered texts. She's going to use this as part of her grad school studies, and that just made my day.”

Fairfax Virtual Assistant