Archie Lewellyn Grant died yesterday in a nursing home in Oscaloosa, Fla. following a short illness. He was 84 years old and the last man to have signaled before turning.
Mr. Grant, known to generations of school kids as "Mr. Last," claimed to have made the turn that made him famous in 1984. He was living in Washington, D.C., at the time and was about to make a right turn on Connecticut Avenue when for some reason he signaled his intentions. "I don't know what got into me," he later said, "but I just flipped the stalk and the turn signal went on. Later I was told I was the last person to do that."
Mr. Grant's claim was never officially verified, but most scholars of extinct customs take him at his word. In fact, the more they studied Mr. Grant the more apparent it became that he was the last person to do a number of things. He was, for instance, the last person to stop for a yellow light, to come to a complete stop at a stop sign and to give pedestrians the right of way. He was also the last person to turn down his car radio at night when his windows were open.
Mr. Grant, a short, fastidious man, was also the last person to say "thank you" to strangers and to hold the door for someone coming behind him. He never opened his car door into traffic and was the last person not to ask "Who's this?" when suspecting he had called a wrong number.
A native of Washington, Mr. Grant graduated from the old Technical High School (now the College of Office and Computer Sciences) and went to work at the old War Department. He was the last person to call it by that name. Then he transferred to the Health, Education and Welfare Department and was the last person to call it by that name too. He also was the last person to refer to a revenue enhancement as a tax increase and, in 1984, called a Freedom Fighter a mercenary and then, gasping and giggling at what he had done, apologized.
After his move to Florida, school children visiting nearby Disney World came to see him. He would tell them what he had been the last person to do. Besides some of things already mentioned, Mr. Grant was the last person to read an entire book, to eat hot pasta, to become engaged before marriage, never to have a ham and cheese on a croissant, and never to wear colored underwear. "White is the only color for me," he would assert.
He was the last person never to have been in therapy, to have been married only once and to be absolutely sure he was a heterosexual. He was also the last person to have worn knickers in his youth and to have been in a movie theater with more than 100 seats. He claimed to be the last person to have paid less than $2 for a box of popcorn, but scholars disputed that assertion. He was indisputably the last person to have gone to a men's only barber shop and, shortly before his death, he became the last person never to have jogged. He was very proud of that.
Even in speech, Mr. Grant compiled some lasts. He was the last person to say ice box or phonograph or (1974) Victrola. Until the end, he called Veteran's Day Armistice Day, referred to Memorial Day as Decoration Day and never knew what President's Day was. "Every day is president's day," he used to say. He was also the last person to refer to the elderly as old and never said senior.
Until the very end, Mr. Grant regaled schoolchildren with the way things used to be. Just last Friday, he told some kids how he had been the last person to have eaten plain vanilla ice cream, to have had his groceries packed in a paper bag at Safeway and not to have been computer literate. None of the kids believed him and one of them cried.
Mr. Grant is survived by his wife, Martha, of Oscaloosa, Fla., and a son, Walter, of Washington D.C.
There were no last words.