Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Dad...RIP.

Frederick A. “Fred” Graham passed away at his home on February 16, 2012. Born on September 8, 1930 and raised during his teenage years in Spokane, Washington, he was an avid wrestler at John R. Rogers H.S. He tried his skills in the professional ring upon his graduation from high school in 1948 and soon got his wake up call that there were better forms of employment, when he was thrown into the fourth row seats. He then took up construction work, employed by his uncle in Chicago.

With the money saved from a summer on construction sites, and a year in the USNR, he got an NROTC scholarship, and entered the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he studied electrical engineering. He lost his scholarship due to myopia, which meant he would not be able to take his passion started as a private pilot to the next stage, as a US Navy pilot. The Korean War was ramping up and wanting a little more room to decide than the draft, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1951, and became a radio relay repair instructor at Signal School Battalion, San Diego, CA.

Honorably discharged in 1954 after two meritorious promotions to sergeant, he sought and received a B.S. in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1957. He took a break between school and employment to drive his new VW Beetle from Chicago on the Al-Can, making it as far as Whitehorse, Canada, before October and having to turn south to visit his family in Spokane. By the start of the next year he was employed by General Telephone & Electronics (GTE).

With an interest in distant lands, spurred by books read as a youth, about adventure and travel, he took his first foreign assignment as a sales engineer for GTE in Havana, Cuba. He got to see Cuba before and after Fidel Castro took power, which then led to his next assignment for General Tel, moving from a base of operations that covered the Caribbean, to one that covered South America. First headquartered in Caracas, Venezuela, he moved to Quito, Ecuador, where he managed the installation of a number of telephone line projects throughout South America, and met his wife of 50 years.

After a six month traditional courtship, they married in 1962, and had their first son in 1964, and their second in 1967. From 1965 to 1966, as a Philco-Ford Corp Field Project Manager in the C & E  Division in Saigon, Rep. of Vietnam, out of Tan Son Nhut Airbase, he simultaneously supervised and directed three groups of contract installers and tech reps for three communications projects at various classified sites all over South Vietnam and Laos. He was a good hobby photographer and brought back not only photographic stills but also 8 mm and 16 mm news quality home movies of his travels in the Indochina countryside, while out on remote radio station installation operations with members of the US Army.

In 1966, he transferred to AMTRACO’s Saigon office and as their Industrial Dept. Manager, he headed the department including local and expatriate salesmen and technicians representing such accounts GE Power & Electronic products, GT&EI, Peerless Pumps, & York Boilers. He would experience the Tet Offensive by himself, but later that year he and his wife and two sons would observe the May Offensive of 1968, called “Little Tet”, after bringing them in from a year’s nearby stay in Singapore.

From 1972 to 1977, he was Kohler International’s Regional Director (Asia/Pacific Rim), headquartering the Kohler office in Singapore and coordinated and supported a network of distributors, trading companies and agents throughout the Far East, covering the full range of Kohler products, including, plumbing fixtures and  fittings, small cast iron commercial grade gasoline engines, and electric gensets. His area of operations went as far west as Iran, as far north as Korea, as far south as New Zealand, as far east as Hawaii.  Singapore was and still is the center of trade in Asia.

In 1977, with a love of the City by the Bay born out of his months as a student Marine at Navy Signal Battalion School at Treasure Island Naval Station during the Korean War, he brought his family to the San Francisco area. And after a decade in the microwave satellite communications field, as a sales application engineer, he returned to his professional roots in 1987, taking the role of Sales Manager at DCM, a producer of telephone cable testers. Working through a network of local sales reps worldwide and involving extensive travel, made many visits to China, Japan, Korea, Latin America and Europe.  During one of his sales trips, he was in a foot cast, which became a business card-like story that preceded him on his travels as he returned to China often to meet potential clients, who manufactured telephone cables for placement underwater, connecting land masses.

With much practical field experience in different cultures, and a polyglot since gaining fluency in French and German in high school and university, later adding Spanish, Vietnamese, Scots-Gaelic, Japanese and Chinese, he was well-suited for doing business in the world. He retired at the age of 79 from his position at DCM, in 2009.

Through his adventures he not only visited nations and encountered cultures that are now gone, but also met those famous literary heroes of his youth, such as buying a drink for Ernest Hemingway at La Florida bar in Havana, seeing John Steinbeck on the streets of Saigon during the Vietnam War. Even the paths of the notorious and controversial were crossed by this kid from Spokane, like Evita Peron’s exiled husband, Juan, in Peru in the late 1950s.

A gregarious man, he was a member of Theta Xi Fraternity, Marine Corps Assoc., the Masonic Lodge, Libertarian Party, Fully Informed Jury Assoc., and was a life member of National Rifle Assoc. and California Rifle and Pistol Assoc. He considered himself a Christian of non-denomination.

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