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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Remembering Bob Graham: Former senator and Florida governor dies at 87

Graham was a UF alumnus and founded the Bob Graham Center for Public Service

Bob Graham’s enduring influence on UF is reflected in his advancement of environmental initiatives and his advocacy for public education — as well as having a playful and nurturing personality, according to those who knew him.

The two-term Democratic Florida Governor, former United States Senator and UF alumnus died April 16 in Gainesville. He was 87.

“We are deeply saddened to report the passing of a visionary leader, dedicated public servant and even more importantly, a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather,” the Graham family wrote in a statement on X.

In his academic years at UF, Graham established himself as a prominent student leader, serving as chancellor of the student honor court and president of his fraternity, Sigma Nu. Graham also attained membership in the honor society Florida Blue Key and was inducted into the UF Hall of Fame. He graduated from UF in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“Senator Bob Graham emerged from our university with a heart for public service,” UF President Ben Sasse said. “He prized finding common ground rather than sowing division — and he was a champion of democracy and civic engagement.”

In 2006, Graham founded the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. The center serves to create a community of students, scholars and citizens who share an interest in promoting civic engagement, public leadership and public service.

Matt Jacobs, the director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, said all students who are interested in developing the skills to engage, lead and serve will be supported at the center, regardless of where they come from or where they are headed.

“We're saddened by [Graham’s] departure, but we fully embraced the opportunity to continue building his legacy,” Jacobs said. “That sort of sentiment, that's what motivates us day after day, before his passing and after his passing, to do what we do here at the center and to be that home for students.”

Graham came to the center three days a week for six months until the start of the pandemic because he loved UF and its students, Jacobs said. However, in May 2020, Graham suffered a stroke, which severely limited the interactions he was able to have with students. Despite this, students still felt his impact.

Andrew Taramykin, a 22-year-old UF history and political science senior who works at the center as a civic engagement assistant, never met Graham in person, but he still felt a close connection to him through conversations with the Graham family.

“I wouldn't necessarily say that I had a personal relationship with Gov. Graham, but I felt like I knew him because of the influence he had on everyone he met, and those people in turn had such an influence on me,” he said.

The center will carry on Graham’s legacy by cultivating public servants who care about the people they work with, Taramykin said.

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“We're not only building leaders. We're building the kind of leaders that Governor Graham was, that this country needs,” he said. “And I hope the momentum stays as high as it is.”

Steven Noll, an affiliate faculty member of the Bob Graham Center, said he admired Graham’s ability to reach out across political and partisan divides while remaining strident in his beliefs and understandings.

“I think we’ve lost someone that cannot be replaced,” Noll said. “His ideas about governance and civic engagement and [his] concerns about the environment are something that are deeply missed now.”

To honor Graham, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order for the U.S. and Florida flags to be flown at half-staff across the state, starting from sunrise April 17 until sunset on the day of interment.

“He was a devoted public servant who, among other important work, made enormous achievements in conserving Florida's natural resources,” DeSantis wrote in a statement on X. “We are grateful for his service to our state and nation. May he rest in peace.”

President Joe Biden also released a statement April 17 commending Graham for his dedication to his constituents and reminiscing about their time serving together in the Senate.

“Bob Graham was a colleague, friend and devoted Floridian whose nearly 50 years of service to his beloved home state and to our country have made America a safer and stronger nation,” Biden wrote. “He was full of humor and humanity, and I’m grateful for the support that he gave me over the years.”

Contact Annie Wang at Follow her on X @wynwg.

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Annie Wang

Annie Wang is a first-year journalism major and a University General Assignment writer for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys reading and writing reviews on Goodreads.

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