10/01/04 — JOHN B. GRAHAM, M.D.

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Dr. John Borden Graham -- pathologist, scientist, educator and writer -- a Distinguished Professor (Emeritus) of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died suddenly at his home on September 25, 2004.

He was born in Goldsboro, N.C., in 1918, son of Ernest and Mary Borden Graham, educated in the public schools of Goldsboro, and matriculated in 1934 at Davidson College from which he received the BS degree in 1938 and an honorary D.Sc. in 1984. He attended the basic science medical school at Chapel Hill, 1938-40, and received the MD degree from Cornell University in 1942. Entering the U.S. Army after a short residency in pathology, he served somewhat more than two years, 18 months overseas. He was a battalion surgeon in the 77th Infantry Division during and after the battle of Okinawa, and his military career is detailed in his book, "Sand in the Gears: How we won WWII in Spite of Ourselves" (1992, 1998).

Graham came to Chapel Hill as an instructor in 1946 and spent his entire career there, retiring officially in 1985 but continuing his research until his wife's illness in 1993. He elected to take care of her at home, an experience which led to publication of two additional books, "Coping with Old Age" (1998), a description of efforts to grapple with health care at home, and "Southeastern Cookery" (2000), a cookbook based on his wife's recipes and those he had obtained from others or developed himself.

Dr. Graham became the longest serving member of the UNC medical faculty during the 1990s. It was once said by former Dean Bondurant that he had taught more medical students at Chapel Hill than any previous faculty member. His more than 50 years there provided the material for the history of his department, published in 1996 with the title "How It Was: Pathology at UNC 1896-1973." When he arrived in 1946, the school was in a single building (MacNider), had 21 full time faculty members and an annual budget of less than $250,000. By the year 2000, there were more than 900 faculty members and at least 5000 non-faculty, 15 or so buildings including three hospitals, and annual budgets (school plus hospitals) of nearly a billion dollars. He participated actively in this building process until retirement. From 1975-87, he was Director of a multidisciplinary research program in Homostasis lavishly funded by the NIH that supported him and a number of other idiosyncratic faculty members. He is said to have stated on retirement that relief from this responsibility was more helpful to him therapeutically than a full case of Preparation "H" might have been.

His scientific career began in 1947 with studies of blood coagulation and homostasis, then included genetics and the study of human population dynamics. In addition to his books, he published more than 250 scientific articles that were peer reviewed and indexed. His most important discoveries were the nature of hemophilia in the dog, the discovery of blood coagulation factor X (10) , and the demonstration that a gene on the X chromosome was crucial in Vitamin D metabolism.

Graham initiated a university-wide, collegial graduate program in genetics in 1961. This was transformed into the Curriculum in Genetics in 1963 to provide graduate degrees in the subject, and 12 Masters degrees and 54 PhDs had been awarded when the Curriculum was turned over to others in 1985. Because of his success with genetics, he was drafted in 1965 by then Chancellor Sharp to bring together all the campus elements that were or should be involved in studying the problem of human population growth. The effort succeeded, and the Carolina Population Center resulted. In 1967 he received the Oliver Max Gardner Award of the Consolidated University "for unique contributions in science and medicine" beneficial to all humanity, and for new dimensions in the training of scholars."

Graham was an indefatigable consultant, at home and abroad. The list of the committees he served on at UNC covers two single-spaced pages. He believed that "ad hoc committees" with clear objectives were interesting and important, but that meetings of "standing committees" were largely faculty social occasions. (In his resume the ratio of ad hoc to standing committees was 38:11.) His counsel was widely sought outside the university. He was a consultant to the National Board of Medical Examiners, the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the Veterans Administration, the EPA, the NIEHS, several think tanks, and was a member of a number of editorial boards.

He was Associate Dean of the UNC medical school during 1968-70 and believed that the experience had taught him that he was unfit for administration. He had imagination and the talent of serendipity -- the ability to spot trends well in advance, e.g. the importance of human genetics. (He was President of the American Society of Human Genetics in 1972.)

A friend once told him that his most important quality was the ability to defuse a tense situation with a joke. He loved to write, and his multiple roles and experiences led to a variety of essays about the world he lived in. Twenty-nine of these were collected and published under the title "Memories & Reflections" (2002). He was an inveterate writer of opinionated letters to the editors of newspapers -- many of which were never printed -- and one of his greatest pleasures was telling a good story. Each story was carefully worked over in his mind and re-told until he felt that it was perfect.

He married Ruby Barrett of Laurinburg in 1943 who supported him fully in all his activities. Their beautiful home in Chapel Hill was the scene of many parties, usually in support of their projects. They traveled widely, and he was a Visiting Professor at St. Thomas's Medical School in London and Teikyo University in Tokyo. Their three children are Barrett Graham, a lawyer in Newport, N.C., Virginia Drill, a music teacher in Hillsborough and Thomas Graham, a psychiatrist in Carrboro. They also had two lovely granddaughters: Catherine Drill (Virginia) and Linda Graham (Thomas).

Dr. Graham was the fifth generation member of the very large, and now widely dispersed, Borden family of Goldsboro. His remains will be buried in the Willow Dale Cemetery there, a site where his Borden relatives have been buried since the town was founded in 1847.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8, at University Presbyterian Church, 209 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the John B. Graham Student Research Society Scholarship, c/o the Medical Foundation of NC, 880 Airport Rod, CB #7565, Chapel Hill, N.C., 27514.

(Written & Paid by the Family)

Published in Obituaries on October 1, 2004 1:48 PM