NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – An alum from Tennessee State University was always one to bring two opposing sides together. Even in his death, he was able to unite California Republicans and Democrats.
And because of this and his involvement in his community, a building in Vallejo, California now bears his name…the Philmore Graham Post Office.
With the unveiling Saturday, March 14, of a plaque dedication and ceremony, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson’s crusade came to fruition, to the delight of about 150 of Graham’s family, friends and well-wishers.
Graham, who graduated from TSU in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical and Metallurgical Engineering, dedicated his life to serving others, and in 1966, founded what would later become the Continentals of Omega Boys and Girls Club in a building coincidently, next to the newly renamed post office.
“There is no one more deserving of this recognition than Philmore Graham and I am proud that we were able to pass legislation to rename our post office in his honor,” said Thompson. “Mr. Graham was a veteran, a patriot, a mentor and a leader. He dedicated his life to helping others succeed, and he made our community a better place to live and raise a family. It’s only fitting that we honor his memory by forever naming our post office after Philmore Graham.”
Thompson joined Mayor Osby Davis, Omega executive director Rey Amador, Post Office Bay Vallejo District Manager Jeffrey Day, Postmaster Anthony Daniels, Graham’s daughter, Deidre Graham, and son, Montoya Graham, in honoring the local icon who died June 12, 2014 at 75.
Thompson, a Democrat for California’s 5th congressional District, said it “took an act of Congress” to get his bill passed. Literally. He had to convince the other 52 state legislators “from both sides of the aisle” to sign on. If one challenged Graham’s qualifications, the bill was done. Plus there was that minor detail of getting it signed by President Obama.
“Before you name a post office, you better be pretty certain this is someone worthy of that honor,” said Thompson, who previously passed bills renaming a Yountville post office after a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and a Napa post office after a Superior Court judge “who set the gold standard of what people should be like. And Philmore falls into that category.”
Thompson was a state senator when he befriended Graham and knew the club’s patriarch well.
“He was the kind of guy you would follow anywhere. He was a great leader and had a great vision for Vallejo and, most importantly, the youth of Vallejo,” Thompson said.
It’s significant having a post office named after Graham, said Thompson.
“The post office will always be here. A donut shop or bagel shop or ice cream parlor can be out of business tomorrow. A post office is always going to be in a community,” he said.
Davis, a friend of the Graham family for more than 40 years, gave a brief — but emotional — tribute.
“I was thinking how special this moment is,” Davis said. “I was thinking how big a grin Philmore would have on his face. I know how proud he would be. This is really an honor.”
Deirdre Graham, Philmore’s daughter up from her Southern California home, called the ceremony “a joyous occasion.”
“I never thought I’d be standing in front of a post office that would be named after my father,” she said. “I feel like the most blessed daughter in the world. Today is a priceless moment.”
Montoya Graham relayed a conversation he had with his father about death.
“He always told me, ‘Son, don’t be worried about death. If you just do the right thing in your life, in your death, you will be remembered.’”
Philmore Graham graduated from Tennessee State University and accomplished graduate studies at UCLA and Cal-Berkeley. He was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, receiving an honorable discharge in 1965. Two months later, he accepted a position at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard where he would receive several Superior Accomplishment awards.
Graham was the first and only African American supervisor in the Nuclear Engineering Department’s history on Mare Island.
Since he began the Continentals of Omega club, Graham was honored as the NAACP Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Good Neighbor Award, Salute to America Lifetime Merit Award, Profile of Excellence Award, Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, the “Who’s Who” among Black Americans, and multiple awards as Omega Man of the Year and Citizen of the Year.
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With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.