Bob Graham, former Florida governor, US senator, dead at 87

Bob Graham

Bob Graham, a two-term governor of Florida and a three-term U.S. senator, died Tuesday. He was 87.

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Graham died at 8:30 p.m. EDT surrounded by his wife, Adele, and family members at a retirement community in Gainesville, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

“We’re very attached and love him so much, so proud of him,” Adele Graham told the newspaper in a telephone interview. “He was an absolute devoted person in public service, to get things done for everybody.”

Bob Graham’s family announced his death in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, by his daughter, Gwen Graham.

“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 statement said.

The Democrat was governor of the Sunshine State from 1979 to 1987 and served in the U.S. Senate from 1987 to 2005.

As Florida’s 38th governor, Graham was responsible for the state’s era of school competency testing, worked on the state’s modern environmental policies and dealt with a mass landing of Cuban and Haitian refugees who came to the state in rafts and boats, the Miami Herald reported. He also had to contend with the May 1980 race riots in Miami after an all-white jury acquitted four Miami-Dade County police officers in the death of Arthur McDuffie, a Black insurance salesman who was killed in December 1979.

As a U.S. senator, Graham sought greater transparency after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and was one of 23 senators who opposed President George W. Bush’s request to use force before the 2003 war in Iraq, according to the newspaper.

Graham was a Harvard-educated attorney from Miami Lakes whose father, Ernest “Cap” Graham, lost a bid for governor, the Herald reported. He ran for governor in 1978 and took Wayne Mixson, a rural legislator from the Panhandle city of Marianna, as his running mate. Campaign pins touted the “Graham-Cracker ticket,” the Democrat reported.

Graham displayed a common man’s touch with his “work days” -- a series of more than 400 campaign jaunts that had him working regular jobs like short-order cooks, garbage loader and other tasks, the Herald reported. He used one of his “work days” to saw limbs after Hurricane Kate hit Tallahassee in 1985, according to the Democrat.

“From the roof, you get a new horizon,” Graham said after working a construction job at a high school in 2003, according to the Democrat. “A horizon of the opportunities that are available in this great country.”

Graham also was known for carrying a notebook wherever he went to record monumental events and trivia, the newspaper reported.

The pocket-sized notebook is a detail in Graham’s official Capitol portrait.

Graham made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. He did not seek re-election for the Senate in 2004, according to The Associated Press.

“Clearly, it wasn’t a lack of other career options that has kept Bob in the Senate for 18 years,” then-Sen. Tom Daschle said after Graham’s retirement. “What has kept him here is simple. It is his love of Florida, and of this country. It is a sense of responsibility that he inherited from his father and that has animated his whole life.”

Daniel Robert Graham was born in Coral Gables on Nov. 9, 1936, according to his biography on the Florida Department of State website. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and a law degree from Harvard in 1962.

His oldest brother, Philip Graham, would become the publisher of The Washington Post in 1946, a post he held until his death in 1963, the Herald reported. Another brother, William Graham, was president of the Graham Companies, which developed the town of Miami Lakes during the early 1960s.

Bob Graham won a term in the Florida House of Representatives in 1966 and served in the Florida Senate from 1970 to 1978, according to his biography. Graham was elected governor in 1978.

In his 1998 re-election campaign for governor, Graham defeated Charlie Crist, who would later become Florida’s governor in 2007, according to the AP. Graham won 63 of the state’s 67 counties.

“He blew me out of the water, and I came to know even more so why during the course of the campaign,” Crist told the AP on Tuesday night. “I learned to respect him even more than I already had, and love him for the good, decent man that he was.

“I always felt that when he was governor, that he was trying to govern for the people of Florida -- not in any way political or partisan -- and I took that to heart and tried to, in some small way, emulate it.”

In 1986, Graham was elected to his first of three terms when he defeated Republican incumbent Paula Hawkins.