(Photo: The Brattleboro Reformer, Jaime Cone, Reformer Staff)
William "Bill" Graham
Windham College Security and Windham County Sheriff
(Reference: Published in The Brattleboro Reformer, 5 August 2010, p. 1)
|Longtime sheriff, 79, dies|
By JAIME CONE / Reformer Staff
Thursday August 5, 2010
BRATTLEBORO -- Windham County lost a leader in law enforcement when William "Bill" Graham died at the age of 79 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Tuesday.
Decribed by his colleagues as "a legend" and "the legacy benchmark," for professionalism in law enforcement, Graham held the position of Windham County Sheriff for 33 years before retiring in 2002. His colleagues say his integrity and dedication to the job made him an outstanding role model.
"He was a mentor to me," said Terry Martin, who worked alongside Graham as a special sheriff’s deputy and a night patrolman for the Brattleboro Police Department.
"He brought forward a code of ethics sometimes lost in law enforcement today," Martin said. "Those who emulate him are probably some of the best leaders out there."
And there are many officers among Windham County’s agencies who model their work ethic after Graham’s example.
Graham served with the Fairlee outpost of the Vermont State Police for nine years before being appointed sheriff by Gov. Deane Davis in 1969. When the former patrolman took over, Martin said, he changed the way the Sheriff’s Department did things.
"He was a good manager," Martin said. "He built a dynasty."
"When he first came, it seemed like everybody on the road had a badge," Martin added. "He called in those badges and began to run the sheriff’s department with qualified people."
When Graham was first appointed, the sheriff’s department had many honorary members but no full-time employees.
"When it started the department was him, maybe one other employee that he hired himself, a chair, and a desk," said Henry Farnum, of Putney, who worked with Graham at the Sheriff’s Department for 20 years. "He didn’t come into office with a whole fleet of people working for him."
Former Brattleboro Police Chief Richard Guthrie joined the sheriff’s department in 1987. He also served as interim Windham County Sheriff before the current sheriff, Keith Clark, was elected. It was Graham who taught him how to be a sheriff, he said.
"When I took over the sheriff’s office in 2006, I came into a bad situation (due to prior mismanagement)," Guthrie said.
"I always, from Day 1 of taking over that office, said this is the way Bill Graham would do it," Guthrie said. "I started to turn that department around and finally put its finances back in the black, and I always credit the fact that he showed me the way."
Graham was well known as a "people person," a trait that served him well.
"He loved law enforcement, and he loved people," Guthrie said. "He traveled day and night; he knew the pulse of each community in the county."
Graham also helped train Gary Forrest, who retired last year from his position as sheriff in Bennington after 24 years.
"When I became sheriff, he was one of the first people to come over to Bennington, and he showed me the ropes," said Forrest. "He was a mentor and a great friend."
In fact, he considered Graham his best friend. He and his wife often spent time with Graham and Phyllis, his wife of 51 years.
"Whatever we did was always a good time," Forrest said.
Graham also leaves behind a daughter, Kimberlee Denning, and her husband Jeffrey, of Weare, N.H., and three grandchildren, Michael, Aleesha and Matthew Denning.
Graham’s family said when he retired eight years ago, Graham remained busy doing the things he loved. That included taking care of his animals on his farm in Putney, where he had horses, cows, donkeys, chickens and ducks, Jeffrey Denning said.
"Those were his enjoyments," Denning said. "The more he worked, the happier he was."
He also enjoyed flying his own personal plane; he got his license to fly when he was 50 years old, his son-in law said, and continued to fly until 10 years ago.
Jeffrey Denning recalled a time when Graham took his grandson Michael, who was 10 at the time, on a plane ride to Osh Kosh, Wisc.
"He thought that was great, that his grandfather could fly him," Denning said. "He thought he was going to fly like Grandpa and be a pilot; that’s what he wanted to be when he grew up, at the time."
Farnum said Graham didn’t only use his plane off the clock; he would also use it to transfer prisoners who needed to be expedited to another state. Prisoners who had to be transported to a town four or five hours away would likely find themselves on a plane ride with Graham at the controls.
Farnum said he had his first ride in a small aircraft this way, escorting a prisoner with Graham on a flight to a prison in Maine.
"It was pretty infrequent, but nonetheless, you would cherish the opportunity to do it," he said. "It happened maybe a couple times a year."
Graham said it made sense to do it that way, as ultimately it was less expensive than driving and saved the state money. It was just one example of how frugal he was, Farnum said, and how committed to the job.
Voters realized time and time again, through three decades-worth of elections, that there was no other candidate who came close to delivering Graham’s level of competency and professionalism, Farnum said.
"I don’t think you’ll ever see another sheriff with a 30-year history," Farnum said. "He was the sheriff’s sheriff."