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Remembering Bob Graham, a friend to Southwest Florida

Housing Authority transforming communities, building futures

My history with former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, who passed away April 16 at age 87, goes back a couplegenerations. His father, Ernest “Cap” Graham, was in the Florida Legislature at the same time as mygrandfather, Guy M. Strayhorn. They became acquaintances as fellow cattlemen, with Cap from Dade Countyand my grandfather from Lee County.

Bruce Strayhorn

Bruce Strayhorn

In fact, I understand that those legislative acquaintances led my grandfather to support Cap’s Democraticgubernatorial run in 1944. When Cap was defeated, the headline in the Tallahassee Democrat after the loss was“It will be a cold day in h… before anyone from Miami is elected Governor of the fine State of Florida.”I believe my father, Norwood Redwine Strayhorn, was present at Bob’s gubernatorial inauguration in 1979,which was held on a cold January day in Tallahassee. My father related that it snowed that day in Tallahassee,thus, to some extent, verifying the 35-year-old headline of the Tallahassee Democrat.During Bob Graham’s gubernatorial campaign in the late 1970s, he became known for “workdays” where heworked a full eight hours doing various jobs alongside his constituents. Throughout 1977 and into 1978, Bobconducted 100 of these workdays, including serving as bellhop, barber, construction worker and more. Heperformed more than 400 workdays during his political career.He visited Southwest Florida for several of those workdays, including picking up trash at the Fort MyersHousing Authority development known as Michigan Court. Graham joined with the resident garbage pickupcrew and spent a full day picking up trash.When Bob served as U.S. senator from 1987 to 2005, he continued to visit Southwest Florida on a regular basis.My daughter, Megan, and I were photographed with him in 1988. Bob and I were both wearing University ofFlorida ties. On Feb. 2, 1996, he was in Fort Myers for a roundtable discussion with several residents, includingRed Sox General Manager/Part Owner Haywood C. Sullivan; Fort Myers City Councilman Bernard Alimenti;appliance store owner Bill Smith; contractors Harvey Youngquist and Bob Himschoot; and Edgar Wilson.Later, when Bob announced his candidacy for president of the United States for the 2004 election, he attended afundraiser in Fort Myers hosted by, among others, Mike Mitchell, then CEO and president of SuncoastBeverage, and Scott Edmonds, then CEO of Chico’s, at the Heitman House. After breakfast, he sent me a letterthanking me for my support.“With your generous and effective help, our Presidential campaign is gaining momentum – fourth in a field of 9after 90 days of campaigning ain’t bad, and it’s only going to get better,” he wrote.However, in October 2003, he withdrew from the race several months after heart surgery and retired from theSenate the following year.Bob was a dedicated public servant who served Southwest Florida and the state for nearly four decades as astate legislator, governor and three-term U.S. senator. It’s said he had a role in nearly every major public policyissue in Florida at the time.As an environmental champion, he focused on preserving endangered lands, launching extensive environmentalprotection programs that ensured environmentally important lands were permanently protected. He will foreverbe remembered for authoring the Save the Everglades program, which became a federal commitment to restorethe fragile and important River of Grass.One thing that I will never forget is that Bob was always a friend to Southwest Florida.E. Bruce Strayhorn is a partner at Strayhorn, Persons-Mulicka & Fisher, a Fort Myers law firm founded by hisgrandfather, Guy M. Strayhorn, and great uncle, Leonidas Y. Redwine.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Remembering Bob Graham, a friend to Southwest Florida

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