After a family trip to Dollywood, the Graham family parted ways on August 16, 2015. It would be the last time Larry Graham’s children would feel the caring touch from their father and hear “I love you baby and be careful.” The family was forever changed when a driver under the influence of narcotics caused a head-on collision fatally wounding Graham and critically injuring his wife of 46 years and his sister-in-law. He was a husband, father, and grandfather, brother-in-law, uncle, coach, teacher, volunteer and friend. Even today, his absence is a void felt by his family, church and the community.
Larry Kendall Graham has been described by friends, co-workers and former students as “an Earth angel, “a true Christian man,” “a loving, kind, and Godly man,” and “a wonderful man that impacted so many young lives.” He was not boastful, proud, or selfish; he was humble, kind, and generous.
“We lost the greatest man I have ever known and our biggest support in this journey we call life: a journey my father walked with such grace, humility, and dignity; a life lived with a joy and passion for helping others. He lived his life as an example for others to follow and left a legacy for us to continue,” said his daughter, Kimberly.
“As a father he made sure we had what we needed, but most of all he made sure we knew we were loved,” Kimberly remembers. “Our lives were not full of ‘material’ things but our lives were full of memories: backyard ballgames; work in the garden; raising dogs and chickens; going to church on Sunday; and late nights at the ballpark where he played or umpired ballgames — some of the best times of our lives.
“He paid attention to the little details which meant so much to us. We are proud to be the children of Larry Graham and will make sure that we continue to live our lives in a way that would make him proud.”
He was a proud grandfather who loved his granddaughters. He loved to go to see them play basketball or soccer, be in school programs, or attend Grandparent’s Day at their school. Papaw Larry made sure they knew they were loved and he made sure they felt special every time he saw them. There was always chocolate milk in the refrigerator and favorite snacks at hand when they came to visit. Their hearts were broken when their dad had to call and tell them that Papaw Larry had passed away. They started their senior and freshman year of high school the day after their Papaw passed away.
The church and community lost a man that gave so much of himself even after retiring from a 40-year teaching career with Knox County Schools. As a deacon of his church, he was called upon to deliver Christmas baskets, visit sick members in the hospital, and shuttle shut-ins to doctor appointments. He was a true example of a disciple of God and a man that cared about others. He taught an adult men’s Sunday school class. He helped establish the Upward Basketball program at the church which involved children from all over the community and he refereed until a year before his passing. This past February, he was honored for his service to the church and especially his work in establishing the Upward Basketball program. He loved to play golf and played in the church’s annual tournament which was held in his honor last year.
In the weeks before his death, he had reflected that in his 40 years of coaching and teaching he had taught approximately 20,000 students. That’s 20,000 children who were encouraged, mentored, and taught to be the best that they can be, try their hardest at whatever they do, and that they are always loved. Many who were taught by Graham shared the same memory of him: “he only expected you to try and he did not expect you to always be first.”
After retiring, Larry Graham continued to give back to the community by volunteering at school field days across the county, and most importantly at the Knox County Elite track meet. His love of children and love of sports continued to draw him back to these events each year. He enjoyed the interaction with the children and fellow physical education teachers of both past and present.
His love of education and teaching children continued until his untimely death. This past spring, the following Knox County Elite Track Meet awards were established in his name: Larry Graham Small School Team Champion and the Larry Graham Large School Team Champion.
“The most important man in our lives is missing. He may have been quiet but he was such a kind, generous, man that brought meaning to our lives. He was an example of how men should live their lives.”