Metro Weekly

Jim Graham dies at age 71

Former D.C. Councilmember and executive director of Whitman-Walker Clinic passed away on Sunday, June 11

Jim Graham

Former D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) died Sunday, June 11 at George Washington University Hospital, reportedly following complications from C-Diff, a bacterial intestinal infection. He was 71.

Graham was first elected to the D.C. Council in 1998, becoming — and remaining, to this day — the second out LGBTQ person to serve, where he was known as a champion for LGBTQ causes. He remained on the council through four terms until his defeat in the 2014 Democratic primary.

He also served as a board member, board president, and, eventually, executive director of Whitman-Walker Clinic during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Graham’s former colleagues remember him as a dedicated public servant. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) Tweeted, “Jim Graham was a fearless champion for LGBT equality, hero of the fight against HIV/AIDS & constant advocate for all in need. RIP my friend.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser, a former colleague of Graham’s during her time as the Ward 4 Councilmember, also mourned Graham’s passing.

“Jim Graham embodied D.C. values,” she said in a statement. “Jim was a fierce champion for Ward 1 and led the way in fighting to preserve and protect affordable housing in booming neighborhoods. He was also a tireless advocate for LBGTQ rights and access to health care. Jim welcomed all neighbors and showed us that D.C.’s diversity alone does not make us great, but instead our embrace and celebration of our diversity does.”

Brianne Nadeau, who defeated Graham in the 2014 primary, issued a statement offering her condolences to his family and friends: “It was no secret that we did not always see eye to eye, but there was no question as to his deep love for the people of Ward 1. As a Councilmember, he leaves a legacy of fierce advocacy on behalf of District residents. As the director of the Whitman Walker Clinic his tireless work fighting for LGBTQ rights and to end HIV/AIDS was pioneering and touched lives across the District and around the country. In his many years of service, he was dedicated to leaving the world a better place than he found it. He will be missed.”

Graham was born in Scotland but grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland. He received a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and was a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Law. He received an advanced law degree from Georgetown University.

He began his career as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, later serving as a staff attorney for the U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. In 1979, he joined Whitman-Walker’s board of directors. Two years later, he was elected board president, and, in 1984, was named the clinic’s executive director.

In his post-Council career, Graham was involved in organizing Rock Hard Sundays at The House nightclub, a weekly event aimed at a gay male audience, featuring male dancers. When the event first launched, Graham welcomed the change of career, noting, “I’ve had two jobs in 31 years. Fifteen years at Whitman-Walker, 16 years on the Council, and I really wanted to do something different.”

The Secretary of the Council is expected to announce details regarding memorial services as they become known, according to Council President Phil Mendelson, who said in a statement, “Jim and I joined the Council in the same year; we were classmates.  Jim had a strong commitment to the District that pre-dated his election to the Council,” Mendelson said in a statement. On the Council, Jim worked especially hard on issues like homelessness, juvenile justice, diversity, and public transportation…. He left our city a better place.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com