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Bob Graham, former Florida governor and US senator, has died at age 87

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The son of a small-town dairy farmer who waited tables and mucked stables to pay his way has taken his final curtain call. Bob Graham, the stratospherically popular two-term Florida governor and three-term U.S. senator renowned for his down-to-earth “workdays” immersions, has shuffled off this mortal coil at age 87 following a lifetime of shattering glass ceilings.

Graham’s daughter Gwen announced the Democracy-revering statesman’s demise in a family statement Tuesday, not specifying the location or root cause. The statement revealed Graham had been felled by the debilitating effects of a stroke suffered in May 2020 at the tender age of 83.

From Humble Roots to the Hallowed Halls of Power

Springing forth into this cruel world on November 9, 1936 in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables, the man who would become the Sunshine State’s political North Star began life far removed from the corridors of influence. His patriarch Ernest Graham plied his trade as a blue-collar dairy farmer while moonlighting as a mining engineer and real estate developer to put food on the family’s humble table. Ernest had tasted elected office himself, serving a stint as a Democratic state senator in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Yet despite his pedigree of political pabulumry, young Robert “Bob” Graham grew up pulling the plow himself – milking cows, shoveling manure, and waiting on tables at local diners to subsidize his academic ambitions. This proletarian immersion would prove formative years later when he revolutionized retail politics.

The Academic Overachiever Lurking Within

Even amidst a hardscrabble youth of manual labor, Graham displayed a preternatural talent for scholastic achievement. At Miami Senior High School, he captured the prestigious Sigma Chi Award – the institution’s highest laurel for Character, Leadership, Scholarship, and Service. The blooming Renaissance man also ascended to the dizzying heights of student body president during his senior year before graduating in 1955.

From there, Graham rocketed into the academic stratosphere. He gained admission into the Phi Beta Kappa honors society at the University of Florida, departing in 1959 with a coveted political science degree. Not content to rest on his laurels, the intellectually insatiable Graham then headed north to Harvard Law, emerging with a Juris Doctorate in 1962.

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“Workdays” – A Masterstroke of Politicking

Though he toiled in obscurity for over a decade as a faceless state legislator, Graham’s fortunes took a meteoric turn in 1974 thanks to a serendipitous encounter with a rankled high school civics instructor. During public hearings that year before the Florida Senate Education Committee on which Graham served, teacher Sue Reilly lambasted the panel as a confederacy of out-of-touch dunces lacking any real-world experience.

Reilly’s darts struck their mark, hitting Graham’s electoral third eye. She audaciously challenged the neophyte lawmaker to take over teaching her class for a day to gain street cred. Always the cunning politician, Graham saw an opportunity and ran with it – not just leading Reilly’s class for a single day, but for an entire semester while jugging his legislative duties.

This revelatory stint instructing rowdy teenagers in the ways of civic engagement catalyzed Graham’s seminal brainwave: To forge an inextricable bond with his constituents, he would routinely insert himself into their same blue-collar jobs and backbreaking work environments.So began Graham’s trademark “work days” in which he turned himself into a human chameleon – joining arborists lopping tree limbs, bellhops lugging suitcases, burger flippers manning griddles, you name it. Every menial and unglamorous occupation imaginable became Graham’s whetting stone for achieving prole cred.

“Worked Days” proved an ingenious political contrivance, winning Graham extensive earned media attention and establishing his brand as a consummate man of the people. He recounted many of his occupational cameos in a 1978 book titled “Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job” published during his nascent gubernatorial campaign.

Steady Leadership Forged in the Furnace of the Everyman

No mere gimmick, Graham’s wily workdays strategy facilitated a jaw-dropping ascension to the Florida governor’s mansion in 1978. Over two wildly popular terms, he deftly helmed policymaking that birthed over 1.2 million new jobs, raised per capita income above the national average, and fortified environmental protections for the state’s fragile wetlands like the Everglades.

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When he departed in 1987, Graham had stratospherically high 83% approval numbers among citizens who saw him as the archetypal flesh-presser in touch with their daily hopes and tribulations.

The former governor channeled his celestial political clout into capturing a U.S. Senate seat the same year – dispatching the incumbent Republican Paula Hawkins in a rout. Over three terms until retiring in 2005, the silver-tongued lawmaker masterfully threaded the Senate reelection needle in 1992 and 1998 – cementing his status as one of Florida’s most entrenched and influential senators.

A Post-9/11 Voice Engaged in Prescient Brinksmanship

Following the unthinkable tragedy of the September 11th terror attacks in 2001, Graham, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, evolved into a ubiquitously visible national countermeasures authority. However, he would soon stake out a lonely island jousting at windmills in challenging the newly minted War on Terror doctrine propagated by President George W. Bush’s administration.

With Pythonesque boldness, Graham stood virtually alone as one of only 23 senators refusing to endorse the 2003 invasion of Iraq – a debacle greenlighted on specious pretexts about Saddam Hussein harboring active weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and abetting al-Qaeda terrorists. As co-chair of the joint congressional investigation into 9/11, Graham definitively stated no evidence existed linking Hussein’s Iraq to operational coordination with al-Qaeda – a dagger aimed at the heart of the White House’s proffered rationale.

Despite a toilsome search by American ordnance experts after the invasion, no active WMD program or stockpiles were ever discovered in Mesopotamia. Graham memorialized his damning critique of such intelligence failures preceding 9/11 and the Iraqi WMD mythogenesis in a 2004 book entitled “Intelligence Matters” – co-authored by speechwriter Jeff Nussbaum.

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The Philosopher-King’s Quixotic Bid for Ultimate Power

Impossibly emboldened by his skyrocketing national profile as post-9/11 America’s preeminent voice of security sobriety, Graham formally kicked off a quixotic bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination in December 2002. The sprouting crop of gray at his temples marketing him as a steady hand capable of safeguarding the homeland while repairing fraying global alliances decimated by the Bush administration’s bellicosity.

Alas, the dream proved still-born as Graham’s campaign was kneecapped by a grave health stumble just weeks after its launch. The intrepid Floridian underwent emergency open heart surgery in late 2002 to remediate arterial blockages, temporarily sidelining his symbolic crusade for the White House.

Though Graham gallantly rejoined the CF91 air cavalries circulating on the pivotal Iowa caucus trail, his audacious longshot quest to claim the Oval Office withered on the vine by October 2003. With his departure from the race that autumn, he simultaneously announced his Congressional retirement upon the expiration of his Senate term in January 2005 – culminating nearly four decades of continuous public service.

The Sage Instructor’s Next Accta: Nurturing Democracy’s Seedlings

Following his valiant if quixotic presidential chase, Graham wasted little time redeploying his civic energies. In 2006, he cofounded the eponymous Bob Graham Center for Public Service at his alma mater, the University of Florida. This think tank aimed to cultivate the next generation of democratic leadership by engaging students on pressing policy matters of the day.

The compulsive diarist and logomaniac Graham also remained prolific as an author. In 2009, he published “America, The Owner’s Manual” – a seminal civics guidebook co-written with Chris Hand aimed at promoting participatory democracy. Two years later, Graham’s literary



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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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