Family man, teacher, Gideon, singer. Born on Aug. 11, 1927, in Erin Township, Ont.; died on July 28, 2013, in Fergus, Ont., of cancer, aged 85.
Faith, work, music, curiosity and laughter were the hallmarks of Don Graham’s life.
Growing up the seventh of nine children on a farm in Southern Ontario, he always had work to do. He remembered being about three years old and having to collect small bits of wood from the woodshed and put them next to the stove for kindling, and pumping water from the well in the yard and carrying it into the kitchen to fill the cistern.
When Don grew old enough, he had his first paying job at a neighbour’s farm harvesting potatoes. At the end of the day, he was thrilled to receive double pay because he had worked so hard – a whopping 50 cents (a good day’s pay in the 1930s).
Farming was in Don’s blood but after marrying his sweetheart, Marion, in 1955 and the arrival of the first two of their four children, he looked for a job that would provide a more secure income. While continuing to farm, he earned his teaching certificate from Lakeshore Teacher’s College. He then began his 30-year teaching career in the Caledon area, which included being principal at Belfountain Public School. He was firm but fair and expected students to meet certain standards. (His habit of holding misbehaving pupils by their arms as he spoke with them earned him the nickname “Gripper Graham.”)
During the 1970s and ’80s, while continuing to teach, Don opened and ran Primrose Park campground in Primrose, Ont., and later added a mini-golf course. He never actually played a game of mini-golf himself, as he was too busy cutting the grass and cleaning the pool.
Don’s mother was a music teacher and their family home was filled with song. He grew up harmonizing with his siblings and in 1945 became a founding member of the Friendly Four Quartet, singing bass. They performed all over Southern Ontario for 50 years, sharing gospel music. One highlight was singing at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall in 1985. Don also performed as a soloist and in duets, trios and choirs. In his later years he enjoyed harmonizing with the Hilltop Singers.
Brought up in a Christian home, Don lived his faith throughout his life. He studied the Bible and prayed daily, always saying a heartfelt grace before each meal. He volunteered for the Gideons, speaking in churches and distributing New Testaments in schools. Whenever he was asked to do a favour, he willingly helped but refused any recompense. He would simply say, “Pay me by looking for someone who needs help. Pass it on.”
Don was innately curious and loved learning languages and travelling. He took his family on trips to Canada’s east and west coasts, and with Marion visited Hawaii, Cuba, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as a large part of North America. He especially enjoyed seeing farming techniques and crops, and trying new foods.
Don enjoyed a good joke and had one for every occasion. His laughter was equally hearty when he was poking fun at himself. He was the kind of father and grandfather who always found time to play, and to play tricks. He was often found on the floor playing with the kids; he was a champion crokinole and Chinese checkers player and never threw a game.
Those who love and miss Don like to think he is singing in a heavenly chorus now. He is probably also asking if there is any work he can do, and sharing laughs with the others.
Kathryn Graham is Don’s daughter.