I SPENT LAST Saturday, a gray and dreary day, reading back issues of the Journal, missing him already. Wally Graves, a contributing writer since 1993 and a very dear member of the Journal family, lost his battle with melanoma last week at age 77.
With his playful, wicked wit, Wally often made me laugh. Sometimes he made me cry. But he always, always made me think harder and more critically about things like life and truth and beauty, morality and mortality.
By the time he began writing for the Journal, he was retired from teaching and had the luxury of time to explore topics he thought were significant. More importantly, he had the wisdom of more than 70 years to bring to the task.
One of his first stories was on racism on the North Coast or more accurately, what would normally be a non-story, the lack of racism that he had experienced first hand as a juror in a civil trial against a black man in Eureka. It wasn't a sugarcoated report designed to make us feel superior to the Rodney King trial that was unfolding simultaneously in Los Angeles. It was a factual, searching-for-truth story, a Wally hallmark.
Wally wrote on the topic of California's new Three Strikes law and its inherent unfairness in 1994, the same year he explored the complex, controversial topic of abortion. On the abortion story, I remember Wally interviewing pro-choice and pro-life advocates. But then he shifted his focus to women, randomly asking, "Do you know anyone who has had an abortion?" and "What were your experiences?" By doing so he came closer to the truth than I would have thought possible.
From the mid '90s through November of last year, Wally wrote big, meaty stories (on the 50th anniversary of the battle for Iwo Jima and the high price paid by Humboldt County's youth), delightful profiles (Gayle Karshner and Stan Roscoe), humorous essays (on cats and midnight gardening).
I have two favorites. One, a story Wally wrote on his famous artist/brother Morris Graves ("Birth of an artist," December 1996). The other, "Bankrupt on Jupiter" (May 1995), a powerful man-vs.-nature story about a piece of machinery used from the 1940s through the 1970s to build dikes around Humboldt Bay.
Wally's written words had beauty and passion and uncommon wisdom. And we will miss him dearly.
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