John R. Graham, 89, of Dorchester and formerly of Quincy, died peacefully on April 30, 2021.
A prolific writer, masterful public speaker, and creative event planner, John lived life fully with optimism and enthusiasm. He loved his work (and a martini to end the day), and his career had many facets.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, John was a graduate of Occidental College and the San Francisco Theological Seminary. During the Korean conflict, he served as an Intelligence specialist and joked that he fought the battle of Hollywood in offices above the Vagabond Bar on Wilshire Boulevard next to MacArthur Park. Trained in interrogation and surveillance, his prize interviewee was Harry Warner at Warner Bros. studios.
Grateful for the GI Bill, John attended seminary and became a Presbyterian minister, beginning his career in Casper, Wyoming as a youth minister. Recognizing that Casper was isolated (and “red”), he serendipitously arranged a telephone interview with Eleanor Roosevelt and the kids. The conversation was recorded, played on radio, and created quite a stir.
John moved on to a church in Pacific Palisades, California, where he put his drive, zeal, and creativity to work and successfully grew the church. Seeking more freedom of expression, he became a Unitarian Minister in Denver, Colorado.
For nine years, John approached the task of building the church with vigor, writing provocative sermons and delivering them with his powerful voice. Never one to shy away from controversy, his sermons appeared in unexpected places, including a March 1965 issue of Playboy and an opinion by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
John also had a radio show, “Walking on Water with John Graham,” raised funds for a new building, ran a Memorial Society for low cost funerals, and created the Commentary Lecture Series attracting such speakers as F. Lee Bailey, Art Buchwald, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. He concluded his ministry career at the United First Parish Church in Quincy.
When presented with the opportunity to create a commemoration of the Bicentennial and the 350th anniversary of the founding of Mount Wollaston, his creative talents went to work. Highlighting the Quincy Heritage celebration was a 3,500 pound cake from Montilio’s Bakery on a 40-foot flatbed truck with a jazz band, serving 7,000 people.
This experience led to the creation of Graham Communications, which grew into a full-scale marketing, communication, printing, and promotional products company he ran with his wife, Mary Weafer, for 40 years.
John’s proudest accomplishments included the creation of the concept of Magnet Marketing, raising $23 million for the Scottish Rite Masons’ museum and library, expanding Anton’s Cleaners’ Coats for Kids program and creating the Belle of the Ball program, and crafting a national marketing program for Agway Dealers. An early adopter of technology and an avid Apple devotee, he helped several companies move into the digital marketing world.
The author of four mainstream books, John also wrote monthly by-lined articles up until two months before his death which appeared in many national publications. This led to national and international speaking engagements, which he relished. He had the most fun writing Quincy Business News, a monthly publication blending humorous fake and real business news and driving kids and adults in his 1923 Fiedler #3 Fire Engine during business and community events.
Those left to cherish John’s memory include his wife, Mary Weafer of Dorchester; his son, Tim D. Graham and wife Deb of Centennial, Colorado; daughter Johnice Bristol and husband Tim of Newton; beloved grandchildren Tim M. Graham of Denver, Colorado and Lydia and Owen Bristol of Newton; and great grandchildren John and Tommy Graham.
Memorial donations may be made to Interfaith Social Services, 105 Adams St., Quincy, MA 02169 or Quincy Community Action Programs, 1509 Hancock St., third floor, Quincy, MA 02169.
A Celebration of Life is planned for a later date.
Arrangements were made by Keohane Funeral Home.