Barbara Graham, Former Administrative Aide, Dies

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The Harvey Mudd College community was saddened to learn of the passing of Barbara Graham, 77, former administrative aide and recipient of the 2004 Mary G. Binder Prize. Graham worked for 33 years in the associate dean’s office and served on the Staff Grievance Committee. She died April 18 in Fontana, California.

Graham was featured in the summer 2004 issue of the College magazine, shortly after her retirement. Here is the original article, which describes the impact she made on the College community.

In With Style, Out With a Splash

Written by Stephanie L. Graham (Harvey Mudd College Bulletin, summer 2004)

Barbara Graham was prepared.

Before interviewing for the position at Harvey Mudd College, she had researched her interviewer, William Radley, and discovered that he was, as Barbara described him, “a staunch Englishman.” So, Barbara, a native of Tennessee, donned her cashmere coat, white gloves, black patent leather shoes and matching purse for the interview. Her solid work experience, no-nonsense demeanor, southern charm and-she swears-her outfit, helped her land the job in the secretarial pool in 1971.

She would work there for two years before being offered the secretarial post in the newly formed Freshman Division, where she continued to work until April 2004.

At age 66, Graham, administrative aide in the associate dean of faculty’s office, said she is ready to retire even though her job hasn’t felt like a job for many years. “I just knew it was time to retire,” she said. “I feel really blessed to be in good health and to be able to retire peacefully.”

With 33 years to her credit, Graham’s tenure is the third longest of any staff member. Betty Lumpkin, registrar emerita, retired in 2000 after 35 years. Esteban (Steve) Sandoval, who has been at HMC for 34 years, continues to work as a maintenance mechanic. Graham has worked for all four HMC presidents and has had an office in every non-residential building on campus, except Sprague Library. She also served on The Claremont Colleges Grievance Committee, a group that handles job-related complaints, for 32 years.

Ditto masters, electric typewriters, carbons, collating machines and one photocopy machine (then “a luxury”) have been replaced by computerized equipment, all of which Graham quickly learned to master. She said she thinks what has changed the least is the beautiful campus landscape. “Our lawns have always been kept in top-notch shape.”

Graham said what she loved most about her job was the contact with students. “Because it can be so stressful, the students like it when you’re humorous but professional. I found this to be the case with most students I came in contact with,” she said, adding that she also knew when to dispense with humor when she sensed a student was having problems. She made a habit of nicknaming students when she felt “a special vibe coming from them.”

“Miss Sunshine,” aka Malia Miyashiro ’05, said she got to know Graham her freshman year. “I used to come in with a lot of questions, and she would always be so helpful and patient with me,” Miyashiro said. “She claims she calls me ‘sunshine’ because I’m always smiling, when in truth, she’s the one that makes me smile. You can’t help but be in a good mood after talking with Barbara.”

Jeffrey Groves, head of the Freshman Division from Fall 1996 to Fall 2000, said Graham also had a way of getting results. “For all her friendliness, she could provide me with surprisingly effective ‘muscle,'” said Groves. “When students who I wanted to see in the office didn’t reply to my e-mails, I learned that one phone call or answering machine message from Barbara would bring them in. I don’t know what she said exactly, but she was clearly very persuasive!”

Her dedicated service and congeniality led to her selection as the winner of the 2004 Mary G. Binder Prize, an award given annually to outstanding support staff members. She received a $500 check and will have her name registered on the prize plaque housed in the foyer of Galileo Hall.

In retirement, Graham, a widow, looks forward to more time with her four children and 14 grandchildren. She will also continue her volunteer work with the Fontana Police Department on the Youth Accountability Board, which targets first-time teenaged offenders, and as administrative aide at her church, Rainbow Community Praise Center, International in Fontana.

Graham is also planning to begin her retirement in a pool of a different sort. An avid swimmer, she intends to spend more time enjoying the sport.