A thank you note to Harry Graham

On Saturday morning, April 24, 2021, I got a phone call at 7:51 a.m. I answered and heard the following: “Mr. Billy, your friend Harry passed last night.” After saying the obligatory things, one says when you receive that kind of call… Thanks… I am so sorry… let me know about the arrangements…, I reflected on the life of Harry Graham.

Harry and I have been friends since 1993. Mr. Ben Johnson introduced me to Harry. Mr. Ben was keenly interested in providing the youth in our City with recreational opportunities and mentors to help assist young boys who were in need of “direction.”

Mr. Johnson formed the North Street Boxing Club and Harry was named Executive Director. The North Street Boxing Club was so much more than just a place for young boys to train and learn to punch someone. They also learned how to take a punch, but the North Street Boxing Club taught discipline and punctuality and other very basic lessons that so many of our youth simply aren’t taught anymore.

Harry Graham wasn’t perfect. He would be the first to admit that fact. But he cared. He especially cared about America and the future of this great country.

Harry took pride in being a Republican. As an African American in a small Southern city, Harry often went against the grain.

A 30-year Navy veteran, Harry proudly served the United States of America. He took great pride in his military service and often would get wound up telling stories of his world travels and experiences. The military taught Harry everything; discipline, toughness, responsibility, duty; but maybe most importantly, an obligation to take care of his fellow seaman. By doing your part, a unit or group together can do much more than any individual on their own.

Mr. Johnson knew what kind of leader Harry Graham was and also recognized that Harry was just the type mentor many of our young kids should emulate.

Small in stature, bald and soft spoken, Harry on the surface seemed less than ideal to run the North Street Boxing Club in an area of town better known for gambling and other nefarious street activity. When Harry spoke, those kids listened and I am confident that many young people benefitted from their time with Harry Graham, whether they realize it or not.

Harry loved kids and he loved politics. Harry served on our School Board solely because he thought he could help.

While not formally educated, Harry had wisdom; wisdom that comes from living life, serving 30 years in the U.S. Navy, traveling the world and as Harry would often tell me, “I’ve been on the streets talking to people.” When I wanted to know what the pulse of Natchitoches may be on a particular issue, there was one man I called, Harry Graham.

Many will remember Harry as “The Bomber” while calling in to KNOC Radio, often to offer an opinion that might ruffle a few feathers. Harry took great pride in being informed and actively participating in local politics. Harry and I often disagreed on issues but I can never remember seeing Harry angry about anything. Harry enjoyed retired life as a Navy veteran, even though the last several years were difficult. Harry never lost his sense of humor and he was a wise man who served his country and his community. One may have disagreed with Harry but you knew where you stood with the man.

Natchitoches lost a good man and community leader. Rest easy, Harry, you earned it!

Thank you, my friend!

Billy L. West, Jr.

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