COVID-19 victim: Pequot Lakes man remembered as selfless, passionate
Maury Graham is Crow Wing County's first COVID-19 victim
In late March, Maury Graham looked for any way he could help those homebound due to the increasing threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
He organized a group of volunteers from Baxter’s Lakes Area Alano Association willing to deliver whatever those people might need to their homes and sought any outlet they could direct that energy for service. This turned out to be one of the last in a long line of selfless acts by the 71-year-old. Less than a month later, the sobriety club fixture and Pequot Lakes community member succumbed to complications of COVID-19 Sunday, April 26 — the first recorded death of a Crow Wing County resident due to the novel coronavirus.
“His struggles were secondary to everyone else’s,” said Dixie Boring, Al-Anon participant and treasurer of the Alano organization, during a phone interview Tuesday. “He listened. He gave thoughtful responses, not always just blowing somebody off with that sense of humor. He could be that light personality and also be serious and loving. He was an extremely giving person.”
Graham and his wife Debbi Graham were among the confirmed cases of the disease in Crow Wing County in early April. Both were hospitalized as a result of the virus’ impacts. He was released from Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd and it appeared as though he was on the road to recovery. A short time later, his symptoms worsened. He was placed on a ventilator at St. Cloud Hospital, after which his organs began to fail, according to those familiar with the situation. In accordance with his wishes and likely outcome, he moved to comfort care and died hours later. Debbi Graham is no longer hospitalized and is recovering.
Maury Graham’s positive test for COVID-19 in part led to the temporary closure April 9 of the Lakes Area Alano Association, of which he was an active member and for which he was a strong advocate. He played a major role in expanding the club, fundraising to move it to its present, much larger location that now allows for up to seven simultaneous recovery meetings. He told the Dispatch in mid-March he would do whatever he could to ensure those in recovery from addiction had the connections and resources they needed as the uncertainty of the pandemic unfolded.
“Whatever it takes, we will do to help people,” Graham said March 18. “If that means me making a personal visit to somebody, that will happen.”
Across the board, those who shared memories Tuesday of the man many knew as Moe pointed to his big personality, soft heart and relentlessness as traits they’ll remember about him.
Ross Boring of rural Brainerd, a former board member of the club, said he lost his best friend Sunday — a man who did more for others than anyone will ever know. Boring and wife Dixie called in what he said was the nick of time to say goodbye to Graham in his final hours in the hospital. Although Graham was unable to respond, Boring said he believed he heard the voices of those who cared so much about him.
“Moe reached out to some people who had never really had a good friend,” Boring said. “He would look after them. He would look after their kids. He was constantly doing something for somebody. Moe never asked for anything. The Moe you saw, that’s who he was.
“ … He went into the lives of people and particularly the gals who had children and were alone. I know he did a lot to take care of a lot of kids in their mother’s name. You will never find a trail that there was a check written by Moe — just something would show up at the house. Or maybe the child needed a computer, and one day there was a computer there. He loved life, and he loved us.”
Paul Ruff, who worked closely with Graham during the club’s move, said the manner of his death makes it impossible to grieve properly. None of his family or friends could be by his side, and a typical memorial service won’t be possible for some time.
“There’s no reason to think that he is gone. It’s just a surreal feeling,” Ruff said. “He’s not gone yet. I need to come to grips with when he is actually gone. I don’t know when that’s going to be. … It’s hard to move on.”
Ruff said Graham was a rare individual in his ability to connect with others.
“When you’ve been to meetings with somebody like Maury, he never leaves you. He becomes a part of everybody’s life. In the years I’ve been in the program, I’ve only known a number of people that have the capacity to be universally admired and liked, and he’s certainly one of them,” he said. “He’s such a huge part of what we do and what we stand for. And I say ‘he is’ because once you’re part of this fellowship, you’re always part of it.”
Alano club Board Chairman Chris Bjorklund said Graham’s death leaves a massive gap in the organization’s culture. He was the kind of person who showed up in the early mornings just to move sprinklers on the property, for example.
“For me, I really saw him connecting with specifically the younger generation who walked through the door,” Bjorklund said. “If he couldn’t sponsor, he was making sure someone could sponsor them. … He’s going to leave a big, giant hole in the club that’s going to be very difficult if at all possible to fill it.”
Graham wasn’t only active in the recovery community. He also was a familiar presence in Pequot Lakes. He was involved in city government, serving on the parks commission at one time and running for city council in 2016. He made frequent appearances at council meetings as a resident, passionate about his desire to see North Sluetter Road — where he lived — paved.
Pequot Lakes City Council member Scott Pederson has known Graham and his wife for many years and officiated their wedding about nine years ago.
“The last conversation I had with him, he said at 71 years old, he wanted to give something back in life,” Pederson said by phone. “He flunked the physical going into Vietnam, and that always bugged him … that he didn’t have the opportunity to serve. Later in life, he just wanted to do something to help people.”
In a written statement for the Brainerd Dispatch’s 2016 Voter’s Guide, Graham said his 40 years of experience in sales and marketing made him a great candidate for the council in a city facing transition as the Highway 371 bypass was under construction at the time.
“I am NOT a politician — just someone who wants to share his competency, talents, and passion for a town I have loved since I was 5 years old,” Graham wrote. “I am a person who always finds ways how ‘we can’ — not a pattern of ‘why we can’t.’”
Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang said Graham was a big supporter of law enforcement and of the city.
“He was definitely a guy that wanted to help out anywhere he could,” Klang said during a phone interview. “It was just a couple days before he got sick that he wanted to know what he could do to help the police department deliver groceries to people. I said we had everything under control, and he said please don’t hesitate to call me to help. That was the kind of guy he was. A really nice guy.”
In a news release Tuesday, Crow Wing County Board Chairman Paul Koering expressed regret over Graham’s death.
“Our condolences go out to this man’s family and friends,” Koering stated in the release. “This Crow Wing County death reminds us how important it is to continue working to protect each other during this outbreak. … We’ve all seen reports of outbreak-related deaths in other states and counties in Minnesota. This is another sad milestone in the battle against COVID-19 in our community.”
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .