The inexplicable, unnerving, shake-a-person-to-the-core death of Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham will affect many of us in the community for a long time.
Like many people, Greg’s cell phone number is undeleted in our contact list. It doesn’t make sense, but I feel if I delete his number it would be tantamount to giving up. I don’t want to give up.
We spoke on a regular basis and my admiration for him is immense. Thankfully, I told him so –several times. While we agreed on some things and disagreed on others, there was a superseded mutual respect.
There are pillars in every community – folks who just made a difference, those who continue to make a difference and others who continue to listen and learn so they can make a difference.
Chief Graham was all three, wrapped in an aura of a true public servant. Writing about him in the past tense is making me cry – again.
When we were in public, he was always “Chief Graham” because he earned that respect; I called him “Greg” when it was just us, because he was my friend.
My family considers his family our friends. We weren’t the best of friends and didn’t vacation together or have regular dinners, but we knew we were there for each other. Amy Graham and my wife, Debbie, and my youngest daughter, Kelly, are avid tennis players and have played with and against each other many times over the years. Amy even tried to get Greg to play tennis, and he did for a while.
One time, we played against the Grahams in a group social and Greg kept swinging as hard as he could at every ball, shanking it sideways, blistering the ball into the net or banging it halfway up the back fence. On one changeover, I told him if he’d get control of his swing he’d do better and be in more games.
Greg took a step closer to me and said quietly, “That’s a great idea … if I wanted to be out here.”
Never saw him on the court again.
In 2009, one of my business trips took me to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he had become the police chief of that department in 2008. The Chief took time out of his day to give us a tour of the police station.
He told us about his first couple of weeks in Cedar Rapids and the record-setting flood that hit the town hard. We were in the station’s top floor conference room on the banks of the Cedar River, which runs through the middle of town, connected by a bridge.
The Chief can tell the story:
“So, I ask my staff, ‘What’s our plan?’ And they tell me they put some officers on one side of the river and some on the other I say ‘No, what is our plan,’ and they just look at me. I tell them, ‘Call me the new guy, but I went through back-to-back-back hurricanes in Florida, so what is our plan when the water rises in this building?”
“They tell me that has never happened. I asked for a compete evacuation plan, just in case. Right out of the gate, that directive didn’t go over well.”
As the Chief told the story, we started walking to the bottom floor where he pointed to a painted horizontal line about three to four feet above our heads. In handwritten letters, it read “High Water Mark, 2008.”
I can only imagine the outpouring of sympathy the Grahams are receiving. The family is surrounded by love while dealing with this sudden, enormous loss. They know their Ocala family is only a phone call away.
What’s the measure of a person’s life? I believe each of us is a direct result of our experiences and the people who have impacted us – for good or bad. Yeah, there’s some DNA mixed in there we can’t undo.
I believe most people want to make a difference and most want to do good. I know I want to leave the world just a little better than when I got here.
Chief Graham dedicated his life to helping us – any of us, all of us. Instead of saying hello, he’d often answer his phone, “Tell me how I can brighten your day.” I really hope he looked at who was calling first.
Here’s what I know he believed in: Do the right thing, ask for forgiveness instead of permission, find ways to say yes, treat everyone with respect, and have fun.
Chief Graham, Ocala will miss you.
Greg, we already miss you.