Former U.S. senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham dead at 87

 April 17, 2024

Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who also served multiple terms in the state legislature and as Florida's governor and launched an unsuccessful presidential bid, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 87, the Associated Press reported.

Graham garnered national attention in the early 2000s when, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he led an investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and was a vocal opponent and critic of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq.

His death was announced by his daughter, former Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL), who said on behalf of the family in a social media post, "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."

Beloved family man and public servant

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Graham's death was confirmed by his wife, Adele, whom he married in 1959 after meeting while they were students at the University of Florida. He died in the evening of "old age" at a retirement community in Gainesville with his wife and other family members by his side.

"We’re very attached and love him so much, so proud of him," Adele told the outlet in a phone call. "He was an absolute devoted person in public service, to get things done for everybody."

Despite the several important and influential posts he held over the decades, none of them were his preferred title, according to his daughter Gwen, who shared, "It was the name his grandchildren gave him: Doodle. 'When I'm really good, they call me Super Doodle,' he liked to say. For 87 years, Bob Graham was so much more than really good. He was a rare collection of public accomplishments and personal traits that combined to make him unforgettable."

From a dairy farm to the governor's mansion

According to the Miami Herald, Graham was born in Coral Gables in 1936 as the son of a state senator who owned a sugar cane and dairy farm. He excelled in high school, even being named student body president his senior year, and earned degrees from the University of Florida and Harvard Law School.

He entered politics at age 29 when he was elected to serve two terms in the state House followed by three terms in the state Senate. While serving in office, Graham developed a reputation for being a pragmatic centrist, was known for keeping a meticulous journal that included every major and minor detail of his day, and for keeping in touch with the working class by spending a "work day" doing a variety of regular jobs -- something he did more than 400 times over his lengthy career.

In 1978, Graham was elected to the first of two terms as Florida's governor, and though he was initially derisively nicknamed "Gov. Jello" for early indecisiveness, he ultimately proved himself to critics with his steady handling of several crises, including the wave of Cuban migration in the early 1980s and a trucker strike.

His governorship also notably included numerous executions of death row inmates as well as his backing of several environmental programs to protect beaches and barrier islands, the Everglades, and the manatee, per the AP.

U.S. Senator and presidential candidate

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Graham rode his popularity as governor to be elected in 1986 to the U.S. Senate, where he would serve three terms and most notably included leading the Senate's 9/11 investigation and voting against the Iraq War.

Per the AP, he attempted to run for the Democratic nomination in 2004 on a platform of opposition to the war in Iraq but, following heart surgery, ultimately dropped out of that race and declined to seek a fourth term in the Senate.

Following his tenure in Washington D.C., Graham spent most of his time advocating for more civics education for students, particularly at a public policy center that bears his name at his alma mater in Gainesville, and was tapped by then-President Barack Obama to serve on the independent commission that investigated the major BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

According to the Herald, Graham, who never lost an election in his 38-year political career, is survived by his wife, Adele, and their four daughters -- Gwen, Cissy, Suzanne, and Kendall -- plus several grandchildren.

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