Was asked to write an obituary for my uncle Johnny. He was my dad’s brother and best bud, but he was everybody’s best bud. In the photo, he’s in the blue, along with my dad in the middle and great-uncle George in the yellow. Most prominent three men of my childhood, all gone now. Here’s what I wrote:
John J. Graff, 72, of Indian Head, Maryland, died December 8 at LaPlata Hospital, surrounded by his children after three brave weeks in isolation fighting a certain well-known virus.
Thing of it is, John — who answered to Johnny, Uncle Johnny, and “Oh, Lord, look who’s here” — thrived on human interaction, especially with his family, whom he kept entertained and embarrassed in equal doses.
Nobody lit him up more than his three children: John “JoJo” Graff (wife, Cathi); Patricia Lynn Graff; and Abner Blake Graff. And his grandchildren: Hayley Tanner, Kaiden Graff, Ian Graff, Riley E. Graff, Kamalyn E. Graff. And great-grandkids: Arrow R. Cook and Stellan C. Graff.
Johnny was born on February 14, 1948, Valentine’s Day, at St. Mary’s Hospital, the fourth of nine children from Mary Elizabeth Graff and William Louis Graff.
He graduated from Lackey High School in 1968 and went straight to the U.S. Navy. He served aboard the USS Ranger, helping land and launch jets during the Vietnam War, before receiving an honorable discharge in 1972. The jet noise wrecked his hearing, but like most things in life, he masked the war wound with humor. He’d often ask you to repeat yourself, then laugh and tell you he heard you the first time.
After the Navy, he worked as a body and fender mechanic with his brother George at Avis rental car. He also drove school buses for his parents’ bus company. Later, he was a chemical plant operator at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head making explosives — or, as he put it, “bad sh*t.”
His favorite singer was George Jones, and favorite song was “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
He made friends everywhere, and if you took a road trip with him, in any town from Maryland to Mississippi, he seemed to know someone with a couch to crash on.
For years he dressed up as Santa at the local Moose Lodge and bars. At 5-foot-6 and 299 pounds — “there’s more of me to love,” this Valentine’s Day baby liked to say — he played the part well.
His favorite holiday, though, was Thanksgiving, for the food and the family.
He loved playing poker, not because he was any good at it but because it meant he was around the table with people. Sometimes he’d wager all his chips while holding a measly pair of twos, just to make people laugh.
He also was a Little League umpire, known all over western Charles County for his wide strike zone. His favorite sport was hunting, and favorite possession was a 12-gauge pump he called “Betty Lu.”
Johnny was the king of B.S. His favorite saying was, “I never tell a lie. There’s always some truth in everything I say,” and both of those sentences were false.
For all his good nature and humor, he was dead serious in his love for family.
He was preceded in death by his older brothers Billy, Fred, and George. He’s survived by siblings Linda, Rita, Mary, Kathy, and Kenny, their spouses, and more than 20 nieces and nephews. Few were closer to him than Kenny’s wife, Julie, who adored Johnny even when she couldn’t take another minute of him.
Four days after Johnny’s passing, his son JoJo took Betty Lu out into the woods of Charles County, and of course along came a deer. Betty Lu shot straight as ever, the freezer is full now, and no doubt Johnny’s smiling somewhere about that.
Services will be held at Williams Funeral Home in Glymont, Maryland, on Wednesday, December 23. Immediate family will have visitation from 8 to 8:30 a.m., friends are invited from 8:30 to 9:30. The funeral home will limit the number of people inside the building.
Burial will be at Maryland Veterans Cemetery in Cheltenham at 11:15 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of John Graff to Waldorf Moose Lodge #1709, 4765 Crain Highway, White Plains, Md. 20695.