Jeff Graham, Kent leader, dead at 46

Published:

He was 46.

Popular in the community, Mr. Graham was an unusually congenial person whose

ready smile and quick sense of humor quickly put others at ease. That combination

made him a formidable personality and helped him become a success in the

fields of real estate and insurance. It also made him an invaluable leader

in many civic endeavors to which he was generous in lending his time and

energy.

A memorial service for Mr. Graham is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the

United Church of Christ of Kent, with the Rev. Steven Lashbrook officiating.

The family will receive friends from 9 to 11 a.m. at the church immediately

prior to the service. A private burial service will be held at the convenience

of the family.

Paul Wallace, who succeeded Mr. Graham as president of Kent Rotary Club

on July 2, has announced the club's Tuesday meeting will be canceled to

enable Rotarians to pay their respects.

Born July 17, 1951, in Akron, he was the son of Charles T. and Beverly A.

(Bugeholl) Graham, and the grandson of T.G. Graham, prominent in Kent and

Akron business circles.

Mr. Graham lived nearly all his life in the Kent and Twin Lakes community.

He had been a real estate agent with Smiles Realty since its beginnings.

He also was an insurance agent with the Wayne Agency in Kent.

A Rotarian for nearly two decades, he used to joke that he liked being a

member of the club because it gave him the opportunity to call his parents'

friends by their first names. First names are the rule in that organization.

Just three weeks ago, Mr. Graham completed a spirited term as president

of the Kent Rotary Club. A believer that the war against cancer is better

served by an open exchange of information, he would speak easily about his

personal battle, his sense of humor often coming to the fore.

That was especially evident at his final meeting as club president. During

that meeting, Mr. Graham said he had explained to his oncologist a couple

of years ago, when he knew he was in line for the Kent Rotary Club presidency,

that, ``he had to keep me alive at least through my presidency.''

``He did that,'' Mr. Graham continued. ``Any chance you guys want to give

me an extension as president?''

The question drew laughter because it was right in step with the humor that

Mr. Graham used to punctuate his club presidency the entire year and exemplified

the courage with which he approached his struggle. But it also brought tears

to the eyes of members who were aware of Mr. Graham's illness.

Mr. Graham, in that swan song, also announced he would no longer chair the

annual Rotary Christmas party, an elegant event he had staged for the club's

membership for 15 years.

``It's time for someone else to take over, or for the club to do something

else,'' he said, his message apparently one with broader implications.

In addition to Rotary, Mr. Graham had become involved with a number of charitable

and volunteer activities.

He was named the 1994 Kevin Coleman Distinguished Service Award recipient.

He had served on the organization's board, where he was a leader on the

Finance Committee. He was a key organizer of the ``Right at Home'' fund-raiser

the Kevin Coleman Foundation has staged annually for several years, and

it was a joke in that organization that when Mr. Graham sold a house he

included the ``Right at Home'' fund-raiser as a condition of the sale.

He was president-elect of the Kent United Services Organization and in years

past had been a member of the Kent Environmental Council, Big Brothers and

Big Sisters, the Kent Jaycees and the Kent Citizens for Progress. He also

helped the American Heart Association stage fund-raisers in Portage County

and had served a stint as chairman of the annual Kent Rotary charity auction.

He was a member of the Kent Chamber of Commerce and a member and former

director of Twin Lakes Country Club. He also was a member of the Portage

County Board of Realtors and the Independent Insurance Agents.

Eager to help his community, he made a run for a Kent City Council at-large

seat in the early 1980s. A newcomer without a political base, the campaign

was not successful, but at the time established members of council said

a person of Mr. Graham's talent would have benefited the city greatly.

A Kentite most of his life, Mr. Graham was a graduate of Kent State's University

School and attended both Kent State University and Ohio University. He moved

briefly to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in the 1970s, thinking he'd try life in

a sunbelt state, but, missing family and his many friends in the Kent area,

he soon moved back.

``I realized that family and friends are more important than sunshine, though

I do love sunshine,'' he had explained.

Once, in a Rotary ``getting to know you'' questionnaire, Mr. Graham said

his favorite childhood memory was having a milkshake and pretzels at Thompson's

Drug Store, a reference back to the days when locally-owned drug stores

like Thompson's featured soda fountains.

A swimmer and a jogger, he said his favorite place to vacation was Hilton

Head Island, S.C., and his idea of a good vacation was a beach and good

food. A person who, not unlike many a man, lost his hair at an early age,

he added humorously that his pet peeve was ``bad toupees.''

Mr. Graham is survived his wife, Sandy (Pochedly), whom he married in 1978.

Also surviving are a brother, Doug (Susan), of Adelphi, Md.; sisters, Bege

Graham of Cuyahoga Falls and Mrs. Ralph (Deb) Paisley of Kent; and a niece,

Katie Graham.

He was preceded in death by his father in 1978 and his mother in 1987.

Bissler & Sons Funeral Home in Kent is handling arrangements. Memorials

may be made to the Kevin Coleman Foundation, 5982 Rhodes Road, Kent, 44240;

the Ireland Cancer Research Fund, c//o University Hospitals, 11100 Euclid

Ave., Cleveland, 44106; or the Kent Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 5, Kent,

44240.

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