Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Florida Pioneer Dies After 103 New Year's Days
In his final weeks of life, Lamar Graham received a standing ovation as the oldest living graduate of Manatee High School at its Centennial Celebration, cruised the Manatee Civic Center in his wheelchair for the Ham Fest (Amateur Radio Convention) and chatted on his i-Phone in the middle of his 102nd birthday party. Even though he next had to tackle pneumonia, he made it through to see his 103rd Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
That’s the kind of genetics he inherited as a Floridano, a member of Florida’s founding Sanchez family and a relative of the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon. He learned about his ancestry when he and his late wife Edith began their retirement trek of searching for lost relatives and consequently wrote the book Double Cousins in 1987.
An active Manatee County volunteer with the Red Cross during hurricanes with the Manatee Amateur Radio Club, at the time of his death Graham could also claim “longest term member” status at the Kirby Steward American Legion post and Bradenton’s First United Methodist Church , which he joined in 1927. He completed school at both Ballard Elementary and Manatee High School when the original buildings were new, and even began grade school here at what is now the Manatee County School Board building on Manatee Avenue.
He caddied for department store founder Robert Beall Sr. on the old Bradenton Golf Course (site of McKechnie Field) and witnessed Armistice Day (end of WWI) as a celebration erupted near the downtown courthouse. His first radio was a hand-built crystal one yet he ended his working life sending out transmissions for WEDU-TV, Channel 3, in Riverview.
Lamar Timmerman Graham, age 102, of Bradenton, died Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, in Pinellas Park, Florida at Suncoast Hospice Woodside.
Survivors include his daughter, the Rev. Dee Graham of Bradenton and Saint Petersburg; his grandson Asaph Graham of Seminole; his granddaughters Austin Graham and Charlotte Quandt, and his great grandchildren, Anthony Quandt Judd and Lila Shelby, all of Saint Petersburg. His nieces and nephews include nieces Joanne Graham Dick of Bradenton, Bonnie Graham Ricker of Michigan, Delia Graham Cirino of Van Nuys, CA; Tonia Graham Hemminger, Joe Graham, Marion Graham Luquette and Chuck Graham, all of Ellenton; Richard Graham of Tallahassee, Van Graham of Colorado, Thomas Graham of Saint Augustine, Peggy Jones Russell of North Carolina and Pat Jones Goodwill of Tampa.
Recognized as a member of a “Florida Pioneer Family” by the Florida Genealogical Society and as a descendent of Ponce de Leon of Spain, Graham leaves behind numerous other relatives who he and his wife discovered while researching the story of his ancestors from Spanish Florida. The unique relationship between the Sanchez and Perez family, as well as the Sheffield’s who married into the family, inspired the title of their 1990 book, Double Cousins.
In addition to being a Floridano, a member of Florida’s first European families, Graham has been a resident of Bradenton, FL, since 1922. He was born in Fitzgerald, GA, on Dec. 8, 1909 to Thomas Sentell and Marion Amorett Sheffield Graham, and outlived all three of his brothers, Joseph, Thomas and Elmer. He spent much of his early childhood on the rice farm of his grandparents, Joseph Sealy and Andelia Sanchez Sheffield, in Wimauma, FL.
As a child he attended Ballard Elementary School on its first day, Biltmore Elementary when it was housed in the historic Davis Building (now rebuilt on its site in Manatee High School. Later he went to Bradenton High, which, by the time he graduated in 1931, had been renamed Manatee County High School. He played on the baseball team.
In 1935 he married Edith Lucille Jones (class of 1932), who was the daughter of former Bradenton Mayor Asaph R and Edith Maria Day Jones. She predeceased him in 2009.
Prior to WWII, Graham served in the US Navy, where he worked as a civilian for the military and studied radio and telecommunications at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He returned to Bradenton to take over the Bradenton Credit Bureau, founded by his father. At the age of 35 he was drafted into WWII, where he served in the Army Air Force as a Staff Sergeant working in flight communications.
After he returned from the war, Graham sought government employment and worked as a postal clerk for the Bradenton Post Office for more than 20 years, retiring at age 65 and returning to his first love, communications. After earning his commercial radio license, he worked for Lampkin Laboratory in Bradenton, and then finished his career working for WEDU-TV, Channel 3.
Still active locally until his death, Graham (W4FKR) belonged to the Manatee Amateur Radio Club, the Manatee County Historical Society, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, First United Methodist Church of Bradenton, the local chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, and the Quarter Century Wireless Association. Through his amateur radio work with the Red Cross during hurricanes and other disasters, he continued to be honored annually as a Manatee County Volunteer. In 2011, he was honored with a lifetime membership in the Kirby Stewart American Legion Post, where he was the longest standing member.
A graveside service will be held Saturday, Jan. 14, in Manasota Memorial Park in Oneco at 11 a.m., including military honors. A reception will follow nearby for family and friends. Those who wish to give a memorial donation are encouraged to consider the local organizations that mattered most to him.