Brian Grodner had an infectious smile. A native of Birmingham, Ala., he came to Houston seeking treatment for metastatic melanoma at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He ended up giving more than he received.

He quickly became an integral part of the Houston Chabad Lubavitch Center, where he participated in services, social events and other programs. He passed away on Sept. 28 at the age of 55, leaving his wife Linda; daughters Gia and Kayla; and a stepdaughter, Ellen.

“He was just so happy to see everybody. Even when he was very sick, he would always say, ‘It’s such a beautiful day,’ ” recalls local resident Anat Chen. “He may have been physically thin and frail, but he was a mental giant. Taking his inspiration from Torah, he showed us how to truly see the sunny side of life and people.”

Hetty Perl, who taught Grodner’s daughter Gia at Torah Day School of Houston, says he went as far as to write a book—“Cancer Is Not the Boss of Me”—to guide patients through the bewildering process of diagnosis and treatment. He spoke about it as part of a talk at Chabad back in January, titled “Overcoming Challenges: The Power of Positive Thinking.”

'Treat Everyone With Respect'

“It was just amazing,” she says. In addition to technical advice, “the gist of the book is that you need to treat everyone with respect. He wrote that even if a nurse is being rude or things are not going your way, just keep an even keel and everything will be better for you. At that point, he knew there was no cure for himself. He was a phenomenal human being.”

Torah Day School and Camp Gan Israel—the local Jewish summer day camp run by Chabad—have decided to dedicate a new state-of-the-art playground in his name, complete with a sign honoring his memory. Grodner, a graduate of the University of Alabama, served in the Navy, worked as a defense contractor and later in his career started a web-based brokering business.

“We are honored to be part of this memorial,” says Linda Grodner. “Brian had a deep affection for children.”

The school’s PTO has been working for years on raising money for much-needed upgrades to its recreational area. The hope is that this new inspiration will help them meet their financial goals.

To date, nearly $55,000 has been raised, including a grant for $18,500. Organizers of the effort aim to meet the grant’s challenge by raising another $22,000 by the end of October in order to fund the project. Dedication opportunities are available at the Torah Day School web site.

“Brian loved life, loved community and loved kids,” says Chen. “He was such a positive person. We want to remember and cherish his impact for as long as we can, and this is such a fitting tribute to a great man.”