|Birth: ||Oct. 7, 1938|
Indian River County
|Death: ||Nov. 28, 2006|
Indian River County mourns death of citrus executive Richard Graves
The Hometown News
Posted: 2006 Dec 08 - 00:55
By Warren Kagarise
RICHARD GRAVES, a giant in the county's citrus industry, a philanthropist, and the scion of one of the county's founding families, died Nov. 28, 2006 following a three-year battle with cancer. He was 68.
Mr. Graves, the retired president and CEO of Groves Brothers Co. in Wabasso, was one of the staunchest advocates of the Florida citrus industry and the migrant workers who toiled in its groves.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Pfleger Graves, a daughter, Debbie Feigel of Jacksonville, a son, James Richard Graves III of Pompano Beach, a sister, Elizabeth Graves Bass of Vero Beach, and five grandchildren.
"It's sad, but I think Richard lived a full life," said former county commissioner Ruth Stanbridge and a longtime friend.
James Richard Graves Jr. was born in Vero Beach on Oct. 7, 1938. After graduating from Vero Beach High School in 1956 - where he played on the football team - Mr. Graves went on to the University of Florida, earning an accounting degree in 1960.
After nine years as a certified public accountant, Mr. Graves joined his family's citrus operation. He brought an accountant's acumen to the company's groves and packinghouse.
"I'm not going to say he was a maverick, but he thought for himself," said Willard Siebert, a former county commissioner and a friend of Mr. Graves since their days at VBHS.
Graves Brothers Co. traces its roots to the middle of the 19th century, and it is the oldest company in continuous existence that still grows and ships the county's famed fruit.
By the time he had risen to president of Graves Brothers in 1985, Mr. Graves used his political connections to advocate for the state's citrus industry.
To earn politicians' support for the citrus industry, Mr. Graves relied on powerful connections: He counted Florida's senator-turned-governor Lawton Chiles and governor-turned-senator Bob Graham among his friends.
"He was a great guy to have on your team because he got involved," said Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League. "He was a great participant and a thinker."
Mr. Graves also served on the boards of various business and trade groups, including turns as chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.
Mr. Graves stepped down from his post at Graves Brothers in 1998.
Since then, Mr. Graves' nephew, Jeff Bass, has served as the Graves Brothers president and chief operating officer.
"Richard leaves behind some superb people at his growing center," Mr. Bournique said.
During his years overseeing his company's harvesting operations, Mr. Graves developed a deep affection for the migrant workers who form the backbone of the citrus industry.
When the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, which provides childcare for the children of migrant parents, expanded to Indian River County in the late 1980s, Mr. Graves was an early supporter.
The association now operates four centers in the county.
At the association's children's center, Mr. Graves read to the children and, once a month, showed up with dozens of Happy Meals, Redlands Christian Migrant Association executive director Barbara Mainster said.
"Richard's involvement was on a very personal level," she said.
Children swarmed around him whenever he showed up at the association Children's House - the donated home of Mr. Graves' great-uncle.
Five years ago, the Redlands Christian Migrant Association honored the Mr. and Mrs. Graves for their contribution.
"He went through hell and high water to get approval for that building," Ms. Mainster said, referring to the zoning challenges that arose during the renovation.
In 1990, Mr. Graves launched a bid for a state House of Representatives seat, running as a Democrat in a newly Republican Indian River County.
Though friends urged him to reconsider his party affiliation, he would not stray from his roots. Instead, he relied on intensely personal campaign tactics.
"He and Mary knocked on every door," Mr. Bournique said.
Still, Mr. Graves lost by a narrow margin.
But he saw another opportunity. He used his leftover campaign money - about $100,000, Ms. Mainster said - to renovate the Children's House building.
Through his political efforts, Mr. Graves also burnished his family's legacy. In 1925, his forefathers joined other business and civic leaders and traveled to Tallahassee on a chartered train to ask legislators to carve up sprawling St. Lucie County, which contained Vero Beach at that time.
The result was brand new Indian River County.
"He, in his own right, carried on the tradition of his family," said Mrs. Stanbridge, who is also the county historian.
His friends remembered Mr. Graves as a quiet, congenial man who loved spending time with his family.
His favorite pastimes included fishing and running with his wife.
With a laugh, Mr. Bournique recalled the time Mr. Graves arrived at a formal dinner in Washington wearing tennis shoes because his feet were sore from running the Marine Corps Marathon earlier that day.
On their treks, Mr. and Mrs. Graves would speed past Mr. Bournique's house.
"Those two would run by with big smiles, he said. "Just fit as a fiddle."
Mr. Graves' family has asked that memorial contributions may be made to the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, P.O. Box 369, Fellsmere, 32948 or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 4360 Northlake Boulevard, Palm Beach Gardens, 33410.
Specifically: Burial info unknown
Created by: Vera Mikell Sodek
Record added: Jan 29, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 24239311