My mentor is up to his old tricks, pulling together an engaging, heartfelt biography of Robert V. “Bob” Graham just in the nick of time.
Graham, who served as state auditor 1965-1993, died at his Olympia home April 16. His peaceful departure from a life lived fully came just four days after he turned 93 and two weeks after John C. Hughes interviewed him for the last time.
Hughes is the chief historian of the Legacy Project, which is a successful program by the Secretary of State’s Office, collecting and writing stories of state movers and shakers — many of them politicians in the twilight of their years, or departed.
There’s a sense of urgency that hangs over the work of the three members of the Legacy Project — so many stories to tell, so little time to do the interviews.
But then Hughes is no stranger to deadlines: He’s lived with them his entire adult life as reporter, editor and publisher of The Daily World in Aberdeen, where he worked until taking the state job in 2008.
In his immutable way, Hughes in a short time was able to find the fascinating life experiences, which, when woven together, add texture and context to Graham’s life story. The biography was just released to the public and can be viewed at the Secretary of State’s Office website at sos.wa.gov/heritage/oralhistories.aspx.
It’s the 16th in the Legacy Project collection. I’ve had a chance to read several of them and have found them to be top-notch biographies that add to any reader’s knowledge of state history.
Graham’s is no exception. I can tell Hughes enjoyed the research. After all, it gave him a chance to explore some slices of history in his beloved Grays Harbor County. That’s because Graham grew up in the remote north coastal community of Moclips.
Graham started high school in Hoquiam, some 18 miles south of Moclips, but transferred to tiny Moclips High School after his sophomore year at the urging of the Moclips football coach. Graham became a big fish in a small pond, one of 23 classmates in the Moclips High School Class of 1939. He played football. He was elected student body president his senior year. He sang in the school glee club and the church choir. One of his most treasured accomplishments as a teen was winning the Grays Harbor County 4-H swine-raising championship, which earned him a week’s stay at Washington State College in Pullman, Graham told Hughes.
Graham earned a scholarship to attend Grays Harbor Junior College in Aberdeen and served as president of the student association in 1940. In fact, he had a perfect track record in a lifetime of elections, never losing a race.
One of Graham’s best friends in junior college was Perry Saito, one of the few American born children of Japanese immigrants living in Aberdeen. A model student and active in his church, Saito joined other family members as internees at the Tule Lake internment camp in California. Saito became an anti-war activist in the 1960s and later pastor of the largest Methodist congregation in Milwaukee. He died in 1985 at the age of 64.
“One of my laments is that over the years, I never got to see Perry again,” Graham told Hughes. “I deeply regret that.”
Graham was an Army technical sergeant in World War II, serving as a flight engineer on a cargo planes that were part of the Air Transport Command, moving everything from wounded soldiers and C-rations to atomic bomb parts in the Pacific Theater. Graham never fired a weapon or saw combat. But he witnessed the death and horror of war.
Graham arrived in Hoquiam on a two-week furlough to marry his high school sweetheart, Lloydine Ryan, just as the first atomic bomb obliterated Hiroshima. During their honeymoon in Seattle, the Japanese surrendered, leading the young couple to joke that their marriage led to the end of the war.
Still in the service, Graham had an unexpected encounter Jan. 5, 1946, in Atsugi, Japan. During an impromptu tour of the city, Graham struck up a conversation with another GI. It turned out to be his new brother-in-law, Ted Reder. It was their first meeting, 4,800 miles from home. What are the odds on that?
The biography goes on to detail Graham’s more public life as a state employee and longtime elected official. But I think I’ll just stop here with the fateful meeting of the husbands of the Ryan sisters. You can read the rest yourself.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444