From the start, Tyler native Jim “Jimbob” Graham showed all the signs of being a one-of-a-kind. At Robert E. Lee High School in Dallas he was an athlete and “Mr. Robert E. Lee.” At UT Austin he graduated with honors and earned his MBA in Finance from SMU. And like many diehard Texans, he went into the oil and gas business, first working at Hunt Oil and Gas and then starting his own business, Palo Petroleum. The venture had a slow start but ended up “catapulting his career into many more opportunistic and impactful ventures down the road.”
On the personal side of the coin, Jim was the first to admit that he was partying hard fueled by adult beverages. But 20 years ago, he decided a change was needed and he sought help at Schick Shadel Hospital in Seattle. It not only worked, but the treatment center turned to Graham years later when it was facing hard times. The former patient set about finding others to help him save the institution.
For many, Jim was a life-changer. He was known for putting his employees’ children through school, establishing the City of Dallas’ “Send A Kid To Camp” program to re-establish summer camps in city parks for inner-city youth,” and accepting leadership roles for community endeavors.
When Fair Park was down on its luck, he was part of a loyal contingent that saved it. In typical Jimbob fashion, he didn’t just write a check and show up for photo opps. He co-chaired with Lamar Hunt the 1994 Dallas World Cup Committee that brought the FIFA World Cup to Fair Park. He went on to serve as the Dallas Grand Prix at Fair Park and the Dallas 2012 Olympic Bid Committee.
For this loyalty and effort, he was honored at the Spirit of the Centennial Award Luncheon in 2015. It was a heady affair with community leaders, philanthropists and pals from near-and-far in attendance. There was even an Elvis impersonator—Jimbob was a big fan—serenading the crowd, and a video revealing Jim’s love of kilts, English Bulldogs and Fair Park.
“At one point it was remembered that Jim had requested a slight change to a plaque honoring the family. Craig Holcomb said that since the Grahams had been so supportive, it would be considered. The change was to add the Grahams’ bulldog to the plaque. The revision was made.”
In accepting the award, Jim mixed memories with Jimbob humor recalling “when, as a boy living in Tyler and following his mother’s death, his father decided the two should head to Dallas for the Fair to take their minds off of their loss. Then he remembered how disappointed he was later when they painted over the voluptuous art deco ladies that adorned the buildings. And then there was that chicken. Jimbob had prided himself as a youngster for his talent in playing Tic-Tac-Toe. That was, until he encountered a chicken at the Fair that won each time. Jim was indeed humbled by the feathered player.
“In closing his acceptance speech, Jim accepted the tribute graciously. Still, he had a request. He didn’t want any more plaques or platitudes. He just wanted another chance to play Tic-Tac-Toe with that chicken.”
But, Jim was like that. Whether it was riding a Harley, rolling up his sleeves to help others or hosting an “orphans’ Christmas party” at his home, he had the perfect recipe for life blending talent, humor and loyalty. And, to partner up with him in this remarkable life, he found the ideal spouse when he married Pamela (Loaring-Clark) Graham 45 years ago. Over the years the twosome added to their posse sons Jace Graham and Tyler Graham and their wives and their children and many English Bulldogs.
This Christmas will be a tough one for many who have been lucky enough to receive annual Graham Christmas cards featuring photos and tales of the family’s activities through the past year, including their English Bulldogs. Last Wednesday, 72-year-old Jim set off on his next undertaking when he settled back in his Elvis room for his daily nap and “woke up in heaven,” probably being greeted by Elvis himself and a Tic-Tac-Toe-playing chicken.
There will be a visitation at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home and a celebration of life at Lovers Lane United Methodist church at 3 p.m.