Gary Greaves, who served the homeless near his Capitol Hill home and led a monthly book club inside the Monroe Reformatory, died this month of a heart aneurysm while practicing basketball in Morocco.

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Gary Greaves had just moved into a home on Seattle’s Capitol Hill when he noticed a crowd of people arriving for free lunch at a nearby church.

He walked over and offered to help. He washed dishes, gathered surplus food from grocery stores, chopped vegetables. Standing 6 feet, 3 inches tall with a “spirit of calm,” he would defuse the occasional argument or fight, said the Rev. Jon Nelson, of Central Lutheran Church.

That was 1997, and Mr. Greaves never quit serving neighbors who were hungry.

He died Feb. 12 at age 57, of a heart aneurysm, while practicing basketball on an outdoor court in Morocco. He was overseas with his wife, writer Frances McCue, a University of Washington professor who is teaching on a Fulbright fellowship, and their 13-year-old daughter, Madeleine.

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Mr. Greaves led a monthly book club inside the Monroe Reformatory. Inmates serving 20 years to life would discuss literature, and their own writings, on Sundays. Mr. Greaves brought authors, including National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie.

He befriended Seattle-area veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, communist-affiliated Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War against fascism in the 1930s. He introduced Monroe prisoners to veteran Abe Osheroff, who died last year.

“It was such a privilege to witness, so up-close, the temerity they had, to never give up,” Greaves wrote in the literary journal “Raven Chronicles.”

Mr. Greaves was born in Michigan and took many jobs, including apple picker, bicycle messenger and janitor. He had only a high-school education, but immersed himself in history and literature. Mr. Greaves was working in a San Francisco bookstore when he met McCue, a customer who soon took a job there. The pair replaced pulp novels with literature by monkeying with the inventory system, she said.

They adopted Madeleine from a Romanian orphanage when she was a year old, and later moved to Seattle and into the Richard Hugo House, a Capitol Hill haven for writers that McCue co-founded in 1997.

Mr. Greaves worked nights as a janitor at Giddens School, where his daughter was a student. He took such jobs because they allowed time for literary and political interests, but mainly because he identified with working people, friends said.

“He believed in God, but he didn’t believe in religion. He thought religion was a useful social tool if it got people to actually live their values,” his wife wrote a few days ago. “He was never mean. Everything he wore, everything he did was about humility, thrift and kindness. And music. And history.”

Mr. Greaves “was really, really goofy with his family,” and sometimes let nephews and nieces wash his hair in mustard, his wife said.

“A man with the child in his eyes,” is how Mr. Greaves described himself.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by brothers Greg Greaves, of Denver, and Fred Greaves of Kalamazoo, Mich.; and sister Carol Liskiewitz, of Grand Rapids, Mich.

A memorial service was held Friday at Central Lutheran Church.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com