Thursday, April 06, 2006

Former Lansing Mayor Gerald Graves dead at 82

Former mayor spoke his mind
Graves remembered for his feisty style - and his dedication

By Chris Andrews
Lansing State Journal

Former Lansing Mayor Gerald Graves, a feisty leader known for tight budgets, polyester suits and speaking his mind, died Tuesday night. He was 82.

Graves served as the city's chief executive during a generally prosperous era from 1969 through 1981. His nearly 13-year tenure was surpassed only by Ralph Crego.

"He will be remembered as a tough administrator who cared about every dollar that was in the city budget as if it was his own," said Steve Dougan, a longtime friend who was an administrative assistant to Graves. "He stood up for the message of fiscal and personal responsibility."


Visitation will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at Palmer Bush Funeral Home. The memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Holy Cross Church.

Graves was born and raised in Alpena. He graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and was an officer at sea during World War II.

In 1950, at the age of 27, he was elected to the state House as a Republican and won re-election in 1952.

He decided not to run again because the $3,900-a-year salary was too small. He became executive director of the Michigan Good Roads Federation, the lobbying group that preceded the Michigan Road Builders Association.

In 1961, Mayor Willard Bowerman appointed Graves city treasurer. Eight years later, Lansing voters elected him mayor. He narrowly defeated incumbent Max Murningham after declaring that the city was "spinning almost aimlessly like a top, on one hand, and going disturbingly up and down like a yo-yo on the other."

Graves' style, both in campaigns and governing, was often combative. For that, he made no apologies.

"It's easy to say let's have Mr. Nice Guy as mayor and not let things get done," he said in a 1982 interview where he listed Harry S. Truman as one of his heroes. "You can be friendly, kiss and hug everything and not accomplish a thing."

Graves' favorite target was Lansing's Model Cities program, a $16 million effort to improve the inner city. He pounced on examples of what he considered waste and ineptitude.

He railed against a school that held rock concerts in a residential neighborhood and waged battles with the City Council. He complained about halfway houses, lenient judges, prolonged yard sales and more.

"He'll be remembered as a feisty gentleman. You always knew where he stood," former Councilwoman Lucile Belen said.

Former Councilwoman Alfreda Schmidt said Graves always took his responsibilities as mayor seriously and helped bring new housing. "He spoke kind of harsh sometimes, but I know he was not that kind of man."

His wife, Donna, said he was a man of integrity who always said he could look himself in the mirror in the morning.

"He was proud of his church, his family, his choices, his decisions," she said.

After leaving office, Graves enjoyed giving coin collections to children, walking and reading, Donna Graves said. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease for the past 10 years.

Besides his wife, Graves is survived by his son, William Graves of Houston; daughters Jeri Mifflin of Okemos, Donna Graves of Hillsboro, Ore., and Amy Mugnolo of Lansing; his sister, Evelyn Doolittle of Florida; and two grandchildren.

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