Local News

Graham Presides Over State Fair One Last Time

Posted Updated
Switch to classic wral.com

RALEIGH — This will be the final N.C. State Fair for Jim Graham as our state's agriculture commissioner. Whoever replaces him will have some big shoes to fill.

With a cigar in hand, Graham, 79, wore a cattleman's hat and cowboy boots as he puttered through the fair on a golf cart. Known as the "Sodfather," the state's longtime commissioner of agriculture is the proud papa of the State Fair.

Graham is retiring soon, and somehow the fair will not be the same. He says it is the best state fair in the country.

"I'd like to say this: If we ain't got it out here at the fairgrounds, you don't need it," he says.

Through 36 years of ups and downs, Graham sees a bright future for this year's festivities.

"If we have pretty weather like this for 10 days, I predict we'll break records," he says.

Off all the memories he stores beneath his Stetson, his favorite is of the day he met his wife at the fair by the fairgrounds' old artificial waterfall.

"It was like a bolt of lightning," he says. The old waterfall was rebuilt and dedicated in memory of Helen Graham.

Graham's contributions are being honored at the this year's fair, in an exhibit called "Footprints of James A. Graham." It includes a mock-up of his office, and visitors can follow footprints resembling Graham's size 15-1/2 EEEE cowboy boots.

"They did it without my knowledge. But you can't help but be proud of all the work that went into it," he says.

Having been in the office for 36 years, Jim Graham is the longest serving agriculture commissioner in the country. Understandably, his feelings about retirement are bittersweet.

"After being in that office for 36 years, I hate to leave it," he says. "I love my job. I have a passion for it. I never dread going to work in the morning." From staff and wire reports