Through my various writings, most of you have gotten to know my mother, Anna Graham, pretty well by now, but you are probably less familiar with my dad, Dr. William Hardin Graham.
“The other Billy Graham” as he used to say.
Father’s Day seems like a good time to rectify this slight on my part.
My Dad was a Depression Era baby, born in Birmingham, Alabama, April 27, 1932. Although his parents, Dave and Roberta Graham, spent time in Birmingham and Iuka, Mississippi, during this childhood, Billy Graham and his younger brother, John D., primarily called Jackson, Tennessee, home. A Tom’s Snacks distributorship bearing the Graham name was started there many, many years ago. The company still exists today and is run by my cousin, Chris Graham.
Dad didn’t want to go into the family business. John D. eventually would take that over. No, Dad would go on to become a chemist by trade after getting all the prerequisite degrees from Louisiana State University, Florida State University and the California Institute of Technology.
Make no mistake, of the three schools, he claimed LSU. Even when Florida State had a much better football team than LSU, dad was a Tiger. So was his brother. I don’t know if it’s because that’s where Dad met Mom or because that’s just how you feel about your undergraduate university, but Dad bled purple and gold. He loved to give me “down the road” about Alabama and the same for my younger brother, Alan, concerning his poor choice of university, Auburn.
When Dad brought his sharp wit to bear, well, we were all bringing knives to that gun fight.
Dad was a brilliant man. Certainly much smarter than I’ll ever be. While the newspaper business isn’t rocket science, what Dad was doing for defense contractor Thiokol Corp. most certainly was. He owns 13 patents for the solid rocket fuel he designed for Thiokol’s missile programs, and those are just the ones I know about.
Dad was a devout Catholic and a staunch Republican, neither of which particularly scored you points in the South in the 1970s and early 1980s. Back in those days, you had to be a good Southern Democrat to get elected, and it wasn’t until the South started shifting to “Reagan Republicans” that the GOP started really gaining traction.
Dad was the chairman of the Republican Party in Madison County, Alabama, during this time period. Dad used to say he was “Republican before being Republican was cool,” and about the only candidate for president Dad ever considered conservative enough for him was Pat Buchanan. I think it’s because Buchanan was Catholic. Don’t get me wrong, Dad liked Reagan and worked tirelessly on his behalf, but I’m not sure he ever forgave him for being an actor.
Long after Dad had hung up the reins as GOP chair, he still loved talking politics. As a young adult, I would tell him what I was covering for the Huntsville newspaper and the explanations being given for the decisions being made. Dad would then proceed to tell me where the political bodies were buried of the players in town and how that was shaping the various outcomes. It was fascinating to get that kind of back story as a young reporter, and my guess is I knew a lot of things about the community and its leaders a cub reporter out of journalism school never would have otherwise.
Dad passed away Feb. 10, 2004, just a few months after we moved to Monroe the first time. He was 71 years old, unable to survive what was his fifth heart attack.
He was a good man.
I still miss his counsel and his sharp wit. And I also lament the fact he never made it to Monroe, a town I think he would have felt right at home in given our area’s conservative leanings.
As much as he would have liked Walton County and its people, I think you would have liked him even more.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Love and miss you.