Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham dies at 87

Bob Graham
Bob Graham. Official U.S. Senate portrait.

By Jim Saunders 7 hrs ago ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Bob Graham, a two-term Florida governor who went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and was known for his work days across the state, died Tuesday at age 87, his family announced.

“As a legislator, Florida’s 38th Governor, and a United States Senator, Bob Graham devoted his life to the betterment of the world around him,” the family said in a statement Tuesday night. “The memorials to that devotion are everywhere — from the Everglades and other natural treasures he was determined to preserve, to the colleges and universities he championed with his commitment to higher education, to the global understanding he helped to foster through his work with the intelligence community, and so many more.”

Graham was one of the most popular figures in Florida politics over the past half-century. After representing part of Miami-Dade County in the state Senate, Graham was elected governor in 1978, winning a Democratic runoff and then easily defeating Republican Jack Eckerd in the general election.

In 1986, Graham defeated Republican U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins and went on to serve three terms in Washington. His tenure included chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But Graham was known to many Floridians for his down-to-earth persona that included work days in which he joined people in their jobs.

“While he valued his opportunities to represent others in public office, the jobs Bob Graham most loved were those he spent working alongside everyday Floridians,” his family said in the statement Tuesday. “His more than 400 workdays, in occupations ranging from construction to farming to hospitality, created wonderful friendships across the state and forever changed his perspective on Florida and his approach to public service.”

Democratic consultant and lobbyist Steve Schale recalled Graham’s common touch in a post on Tuesday night on the social media platform X.

“I have so many wonderful memories of Bob — but I loved being with him when he was with everyday people,” Schale wrote. “Those work days really molded how he saw his fellow Floridians. I never saw him look down on anyone — or look over anyone’s shoulders. He was, in every sense, a good man.”

In the statement Tuesday night, Graham’s family recalled him as a grandfather.

“Bob Graham would tell people his favorite title was not Governor or Senator. It was the name his grandchildren gave him: Doodle. ‘When I’m really good, they call me Super Doodle,’ he liked to say,” the statement said. “For 87 years, Bob Graham was so much more than really good. He was a rare collection of public accomplishments and personal traits that combined to make him unforgettable. As his family, we will never forget his love for us, the love he had for Florida, the United States, and the world, and the love so many people showed him. We thank God for the gift of his life.”

Graham, who did not seek a fourth term in the Senate in 2004, was from what now seems like a distant era in Florida politics. Along with figures such as the late Gov. Reubin Askew and the late U.S. Sen. and Gov. Lawton Chiles, Graham led during a period when Democrats controlled the state’s political levers.

That began to change in the 1990s, and Republicans now dominate state politics. Graham’s daughter, Gwen, served one term in the U.S. House but lost in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2018.

Graham chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee following the 2001 terrorist attacks and opposed the Iraq invasion.

He made an unsuccessful bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, emphasizing his opposition to the Iraq invasion.

Graham did not seek re-election in 2004 and was replaced by Republican Mel Martinez.

In a statement, Congress member Kathy Castor wrote, ‘Bob Graham will always be “Mr. Florida”. He remained our beloved “Governor” even through his years in the U.S. Senate and beyond. Honest, smart, always with his notebook, informed by his “workdays”, devoted to Florida’s natural environment, a booster for public education and committed to high ethical standards – Graham was one of Florida’s greatest public servants. He united Floridians with his positive outlook and “can-do” spirit as the state moved into the modern era.’

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report

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