MOUNT DESERT — Robert “Bob” Malcolm Graves, 86, a plumber and family man, died peacefully March 3, 2011, surrounded by his family at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth.
He was born June 18, 1924, in Northeast Harbor, the son of Lillian V. Faulkenstrom Graves and her husband Malcolm W. Graves, who for some reason liked to be hailed as Joe Green. He was a deliveryman for the Railway Express Agency but mostly his job was keeping life in Northeast Harbor from getting too dull and predictable. His son, while not such a flamboyant character perhaps, did inherit his father’s wit and knack for spinning yarns.
After graduating from the local Northeast Harbor grammar school, young Bob went on to Gillman High School. But World War II ended his formal education. Eager to join the service, the teenager hitched a ride to the U.S. Navy recruiting office in Bangor, only to be told that at age 17 he needed his parent’s permission. He was back the following day with the necessary signatures.
Mr. Graves served in the Panama Canal area aboard a submarine chaser, coming home unscathed but with plenty of stories.
When the war ended, the young sailor was mustered out of the service through Boston. While there he and a buddy decided to visit the local USO canteen where they encountered a pretty young woman working at there named Sheila Norwood, who, as it happened, was from Seal Harbor and had actually gone to Gillman High at the same time as Bob. But because she was taking business courses and he vocational courses, their paths rarely crossed.
About a month or so after Mr. Graves returned home to Mount Desert Island, Sheila followed. They were married in October of 1947. A few days later the great fire started on MDI, burning a third of the island, but they always remember that time as the start of a 63-year union that was characterized by love, respect and their shared devotion to family.
The young couple settled on Sylvan Road in Northeast Harbor and Mr. Graves went to work for C.E. Wallace Plumbing and Heating. In 1949 they were thrilled to welcome their first baby, a son named John. But it soon became apparent that all was not well with the infant ““ he had been born with a hole in his heart.
While today this not-uncommon problem could have been corrected within a month of birth, back then it was necessary to wait until the child was a good deal older. While John waited for his operation, his brother Steven and sister Ann were born.
The boy’s health was a constant concern, but that concern was not confined to the Graves family alone.
“The whole village pitched in to help my parents,” says daughter Ann Paine. “People donated money to help them afford the trips to the Children’s Hospital in Boston and donated blood when it was needed.”
When John was 8 years old, the operation could not be put off any longer. Bob and Sheila took their son to Boston for the procedure. They came home alone.
“I only knew Johnny for a few years of my early life,” says Ms. Paine. “But he had a huge impact on our family. He was a constant presence, somehow, and for as long as he was able my dad visited Johnny’s grave almost every day.”
The loss of their firstborn lay heavily on the family, but some of that grief lifted when, less than a year later, another son, Alan, was born bringing a new happiness and normalcy back into their lives.
Ms. Paine says her father worked hard at his plumbing jobs during the week and some caretaking and odd jobs on the side, but he always found time to spend with his family on weekends.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, but there’d be picnics at our camp on Abram’s pond in Franklin in the summer, road trips in the fall and skating on Lower Hadlock Pond or skiing at McFarland Hill in the winter.
“My dad was always fun to be around,” says Ms. Paine. “He sang songs and had these great stories he would tell ““ unbelievable stories about plumbing adventures ““ like the time he found a mink coat in the plumbing of a summer cottage. He’d tell them again and again. We never tired hearing them.”
In 1972, Mr. Graves started Robert M. Graves Plumbing & Heating, which he operated until he retired in 1986.
Actually, there was very little retiring going on the next 24 or so years of Bob Graves’ life, as he had time to indulge this passion for woodworking and started turning out handsome tables, chests, bureaus and other furniture pieces. He took up bird carving at the Wendell Gilley Museum and was pretty darn good at it. And there was always something to be done at the camp on Abram’s Pond.
“My dad didn’t swim, or fish or boat, much” says Ms. Paine. “His idea of relaxing was to pick up a hammer and find something to use it on. And while he wasn’t much of a gardener, the window boxes were always full of flowers. My mom says he used to spend more time fixing up the camp than he did working on our home.”
While Mr. Graves shared the cooking duties at home with his wife, at camp he was the primary chef both at the outside barbecue and indoors, where he loved to cook up a good roast with all the fixings. His wife was allowed to contribute a pie or two.
“I once asked dad if he ever wanted to be a cook,” says Ms. Paine, and he said, â€˜I think I am one.'”
Mr. Graves took on grandparenting with the same zeal he’d brought to parenting. Long after his grandkids needed rides home from school, he’d be there like an extra school bus as soon as school was out ““ even if only to ferry their backpacks home as the kids raced off to various activities.
Among his many other activities Mr. Graves served as a selectman for the Town of Mount Desert; and a deacon, trustee and member of Union Congregational Church in Northeast Harbor. The strong spiritual aspect of his life was a great comfort when he and Sheila lost another son, Steven, to cancer at age 48.
“I don’t think my father had any doubt that he would be seeing his sons again,” says Ms. Paine. “In fact his only concern was that Johnny might not recognize him. It had been so long.”
Up until two years ago, Mr. Graves was far too busy to be making plans for that eventual reunion with his sons, but then his health began to deteriorate. Last January he was having trouble recovering from a bout of pneumonia, among other ailments, and both he and his wife entered Sonogee so they could be together.
When it became clear, last Thursday, that her husband was not going to regain his health, Sheila Graves held his hand and urged him to go on ahead and see their two boys. She said she’d be along to join them, by-and-by.
In addition to his wife Sheila (Norwood) Graves and his daughter Ann Paine of Northeast Harbor and her husband Bill, he is survived by his son and daughter-in-law Alan and Doreen Graves of Northeast Harbor; a daughter-in-law, Christine Graves, of Tucson, Ariz.; sister Nancy Trask of Old Saybrook, Conn.; two brothers, Richard Graves and his wife Mary Jane of Trenton and Malcolm Graves of Lisbon, Conn. He is also survived by eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, with another one due in May; and many nieces and nephews.
In addition to his son John Robert Graves, he was predeceased by two sisters, Betty Fish and Dorothy Clarke.
Graveside services will be held in the spring at Forest Hill Cemetery in Northeast Harbor. Those who desire may make contributions in Bob’s memory to the Josh Sprague Scholarship Fund, First Advisors, P.O. Box 258, Bar Harbor ME 04609; Mount Desert Nursing Association, P.O. Box 397, Northeast Harbor ME 04662 or American Heart Association, 51 U.S. Route 1, Suite M, Scarborough ME 04074.
Condolences may be expressed at jordanfernald.com.