BRADENTON -- He climbed the construction site of the Old Dixie Grand Hotel when it was built in 1925.
He remembered the Civil War stories told him by his grandfather, a Confederate veteran.
He received a standing ovation at Manatee High School’s Centennial Celebration as its oldest living graduate.
Lamar Graham was one of a kind.
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“He’d start telling me a story, ‘Back when I was a kid during World War I...’ and I’d say, Holy cow, my father fought in World War I,” said Dr. Joseph Newhall, 83.
“A remarkable man,” said Harold Skipper, 82.
Graham’s daughter knew it well.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember all the things he remembered,” said Rev. Dee Graham, 59. “His legacy is uniquely historical.”
Lamar Graham passed Jan. 6. He was 102.
Although born in Fitzgerald, Ga., on Dec. 8, 1909, Mr. Graham spent much of his childhood with grandparents in Wimauma, then moved to Bradenton in 1922, growing up to appreciate and explore a distinguished ancestry dating back to Florida of the 1500s.
Mr. Graham was a “Floridano,” a descendent of Florida’s founding Sanchez family and a relative of the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, who discovered and named Florida in 1513.
In 1987, he and his late wife, Edith, wrote “Double Cousins,” chronicling their search for lost relatives.
“He stayed as long as he was able and had a positive attitude the whole time,” his daughter said. “He must’ve had some of that fountain of youth water in his blood.”
Mr. Graham’s life was fascinating.
n He was a member of Bradenton High’s 1931 state baseball champions.
n He caddied for department store founder Robert Beall Sr., at the old Bradenton Golf Course -- now McKechnie Field.
n He attended Ballard Elementary School when that building was new.
n He witnessed the Armistice Day celebration at the old courthouse at the end of World War I.
n He was a one of the first in the Army Air Corps to work with radar during World War II.
n He held longest member status at Kirby Stewart American Legion Post 24, as well as First United Methodist Church, which he joined in 1927.
n He was an active Red Cross volunteer and longtime ham radio enthusiast with the Manatee Amateur Radio Club.
n He was president of the town’s Junior Chamber of Commerce that, Mr. Graham’s daughter said, put up the long gone, but still famous electric sign over the old Green Bridge of a man fishing and the words, “Welcome to Bradenton, Land of Your Dreams.”
“The mayor didn’t want to do it because of the electric bill,” she said. “So the Jaycees paid it.”
Mr. Graham was a centenarian, but he was still sharp.
“He was so with it, even to the very end,” said Mary Jo Willis, 68.
For his 102nd birthday, Mr. Graham got an iPhone.
“He was never senile,” his daughter said. “His body just gave out.”
Besides his daughter, Mr. Graham’s survivors included three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A graveside service, including military honors, will be held 11 a.m. today at Manasota Memorial Park in Oneco.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055.