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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, April 12, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsRobert Graham Was a “Yes” Man

Robert Graham Was a “Yes” Man

Robert Graham (Submitted photo)

When Robert Graham was asked in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to lead the Virgin Islands Housing Authority out of federal receivership, Robert said, “Yes.”

I don’t know what day I met Robert Graham; what gathering, what celebration of another benchmark he met in his march to see to it that every Virgin Islander might have a roof over their head, a bed to sleep in, and more than that the social support systems to move them toward a life of prosperity; but I am so glad I did.

I don’t think we ever went to dinner together, or certainly never hobknobbed at a cocktail party, but more than once, we shared lunch hunched over a table in some conference room — often in his Tutu office before the V.I. Housing Authority building was blown away during the hurricanes of 2017 — while we, along with many others, strategized over how to make life better for Virgin Islanders — especially the marginalized.

The most significant effort that we worked on together was the Rotary-sponsored “Practice Peace Initiative,” begun along with LaVerne Ragster in 2013. Robert Graham is one of the first people we reached out to for his experience and support. The point of the initiative was to reduce the outrageous gun violence that was — and still is — felling young Virgin Islanders by the dozens every year.

Robert said, “Yes.”

After the initial meetings in 2014 with nearly 200 community members and later in the week with stakeholders, when we asked Robert to be there, especially at the stakeholder meetings, Robert said, “Yes.”

After we began the monumental work of carrying out the strategies developed out of those conferences, when we needed a place to meet, Robert said, “Yes.”

When I asked for a tour of the Tutu Hi-Rise buildings blown away once and for all in the 2017 hurricanes, Robert said, “Yes.”

HUD Deputy Secretary Pamela Hughes Patenaude, Gov. Kenneth Mapp, and Virgin Islands Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham review plans to demolish Tutu Hi-Rise after the 2017 hurricanes. (Source file photo)

Mind you, this was a man who took the Virgin Islands Housing Authority out of federal receivership in six years and, a few years later, made the financial stability dean’s list. It’s not like he didn’t have anything else to do.

So, that was one thing.

While stabilizing the financials, as a result of his ability to play well with others, he also designed and oversaw numerous successful public-private partnerships that allowed for more than one new middle- and low-income housing community to rise. He also developed and augmented plans to completely overhaul or rebuild former community centers without relying on unreliable government funding. “Yes.”

After begging him from the day that I learned he was retiring in December to let me do a story about him, he finally said, “Yes.” It is the only time in all the years that I was associated with him that his “yes” felt reluctant. He was not one who desired the limelight.

His legacy, I would think after spending much time speaking and meeting personally with him about it, would be the Bright Paths program, which he happily reported was fully staffed and funded. He was elated.

Robert Graham died today, Feb. 28, 2024.

It has been less than three months since we had our last conversation and barely two months since he retired.

Here is what he expressed to me as his fondest wish as he was leaving the post he had held for 15 years.

“It is my hope that the planning work we have done over the years will eventually be carried out through the public-private relationships we have successfully developed over the years.”

When I learned that Robert had died, the first thing I remembered was his acute sense of humor. I will miss that the most. The second thing I thought of was this Bertrand Russell quote that means so much to me and that exemplifies Robert’s life and legacy.

The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done. — Bertrand Russell

Robert Graham did everything that was possible to leave this community a better, healthier, more balanced place.

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