Former ABC enforcement officer Graham dies at 90

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

Staff report
SALISBURY — David Graham Jr., who spent years chasing moonshiners as Rowan County’s top enforcer of alcohol laws and many more as the manager of its ABC system, died Thursday at Rowan Regional Medical Center.
He was 90.
Graham was born in Sparta, the son of David Graham and Alma Kerr Graham, but he grew up in Salisbury, where he starred in football and basketball at Boyden High School.
He turned down athletic scholarships at Clemson University and Catawba College, opting instead to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in law enforcement. He started with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office in 1940 and served with the Army Air Force Military Police during World War II.
After the war, as he and wife Pauline had two daughters, Patsy and Nancy, and Graham continued his law enforcement career with a 1949 appointment as chief of the Rowan County ABC Law Enforcement Unit.
Graham became well known as a man who chased down bootleggers and busted up stills. And he worked closely for years with the late Bob Martin, a friend and former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent who would later serve as Rowan County sheriff.
He was the recognized local expert on moonshiners and their mash. In April of this year, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office called Graham in to take a look at a still investigators had confiscated. It was the 451st he’d seen. Graham needed only swirl its product in a mason jar and briefly study the liquid to declare it 90 proof liquor.
At that meeting, he regaled the investigators and others with tales of a career spent stemming the tide of white lightning, including the 1960 confrontation with a shotgun-toting moonshiner that cost Martin a finger.
“Martin getting shot was the most memorable. Everything else was just about routine. You’d raid a still and they’d run, and you’d run and catch them,” Graham said then.
“We had only one that ever shot at us. We kind of had the unwritten law — if you don’t shoot at me, I won’t shoot at you. We didn’t shoot at them. But when he shot at Martin, he broke the law.”
Graham got the better of bootleggers in many high-speed chases, but he suffered a severe shoulder injury in a crash during one. In 1970, he became general manager of the Rowan County ABC system and held that post until retiring in 1991.
He stayed involved in law enforcement even after retiring, working six years for Martin as a grand jury officer and bailiff with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
Graham was a member of many civic and veterans’ organizations and served as president of the state ABC Law Enforcement Association and on the board of the state ABC Boards Association.
When he died Thursday, Graham was the same age his father was when he passed away in 1980. The elder Graham also spent more than four decades in law enforcement.