Bill Graham honored for civic achievements

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Lawyers develop strong hides out of necessity, and it’s a good thing given all the ribbing Salisbury attorney Bill Graham absorbed Friday night.
But it was prelude to Graham’s receiving the Community Care Clinic’s 2011 Humanitarian Award. The yearly event, held on the Catawba College campus, represents the biggest fundraiser for the clinic, which provides free medical, dental and prescription services to needy residents in Rowan County.
Funded by grants and donations, the clinic is located at 315-G Mocksville Ave.
For Graham, the night proved to be both roast and toast.
Friends and co-workers needled Graham, a 2008 Republican candidate for governor, about his well-coifed hair, extremely white teeth, skinny legs, pink shirts, GOP philosophies and his big house.
“I thought we were doing Billy Graham,” the night’s emcee Kent Bernhardt said before a video highlighting the triumphs of the famous Southern evangelist began playing.
Bernhardt cut the video short, apologized, then showed a revised presentation with images of Bill Graham super-imposed over those of Billy Graham.
But the friends spent more time praising Graham’s philanthropy in the community and the caring he shows for clients.
His law partner, Mona Lisa Wallace, said Graham shows great compassion for the law firm’s clients with terminal illnesses, besides meeting with their families and calling their doctors.
He’s a man who cares about his clients and knows their stories, speakers said.
Graham and his wife, Shari, whom he met at Catawba College, also are leading givers in the community. The Grahams buy turkeys, hams or chicken each month for Rowan Helping Ministries, which estimates that over time the couple have fed 29,000 people with their gifts.
Former Mayor Margaret Kluttz said Graham puts his money where his mouth is.
Diane Fisher said Graham becomes especially upset when people are treated unfairly.
His political science professor at Catawba, Dr. Sanford Silverburg, said despite Graham’s political views, he was “a pretty neat guy” who contributed an enormous amount to the community.
Sue Fisher, co-chair of the planning committee for the event, said Graham is a person “who understands that we are all on this earth for a purpose, that in order to have a great community, we must build it ourselves.”
“Our honoree,” Fisher added, “is a person who travels life’s highway with his headlights always on bright. Not because he wants to reach his destination more quickly, but to enable him to better see a fellow traveler who may be stranded on life’s highway and in need of a helping hand.”
The evening was a total surprise to Graham, who thought he was going to a tribute to his friend, John Henderlite.
Graham recently has taken up running, and his commitment to that mirrors his dedication to his life, career and adopted hometown, Henderlite said.
Shari Graham said she told a professor at Catawba that she might marry Bill some day, even though it took seven years of courting. “I knew he was something special,” she said, also describing her husband as a true Southern gentleman.
The couple are coming up on their 25th anniversary.
“He’s a real Prince Charming in the truest sense of the word,” Shari added.
Bill Graham deflected the night’s praise, saying he and Shari were simply following a template of giving set out by many others in Salisbury. He also gave credit to his office administrator Kathy Hoffner and Shari, because everything he helps with, Graham said, is run through them.
And he couldn’t say enough about his wife’s role in their philanthropy.
“It’s really Shari,” he said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.