Obituary: James “Jim” Graham

Rocket scientist, volunteer, father, grandfather

James Donald Graham, a Claremont resident for 57 years, died peacefully at his daughter’s home on December 23, 2023.

Jim was born in a rural area in western Pennsylvania, now part of Monroeville, on August 20, 1926. He grew up on the family farm under the care of his mother, Sarah Stewart Graham, and her brother, Benjamin Stewart (uncle Ben). His father, John David Graham, was tragically killed in a car accident one month before he was born, so his uncle Ben stepped up as a father figure for him. His uncle taught him the importance of education, kindness, and a love of animals.

After graduating from Turtle Creek High School in 1944, he joined the Army Air Corps. He always said he was one of the luckiest service members from World War II, as he went through basic training but was honorably discharged before ever seeing combat. Under the GI Bill he attended Cornell University, where he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. He went on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Missouri, where he met the love of his life, Dorothy Lucille Socolofsky. They were married in 1951 in Manhattan, Kansas.

He earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1957. He taught engineering at Kansas State and Marquette University and was also employed by Oster, Westinghouse, and AC Spark Plugs.

The Grahams had four children: James Jr. “Jimmie,” Rick, Patricia, and Carol. In 1961, with the kids in tow, they traded the winter cold of Wisconsin for the warmer weather of Southern California and moved to Glendora, California. A year later they settled in Claremont. He joined Aerojet in Azusa, where he worked as a rocket scientist until 1989. He also enjoyed golfing, dancing, playing tennis, bowling, playing poker, and horse racing.

In retirement, he found renewed purpose in volunteer work. His generosity and time were dedicated to a number of causes, including, the Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, Shoes that Fit, Project Turnabout, Claremont After-School Programs, Phone Assurance Line, and Food Share.

He was also known for his love of dogs, completing the crossword puzzle in ink, and tutoring neighborhood kids in math. The couple loved to travel, enjoying road trips across the U.S. to explore national parks and visit family and friends, as well as adventurous cruises to Alaska, the North Sea, the Panama Canal, Australia, Fiji, and his all-time favorite destination, New Zealand.

“In 2005, after 54 devoted years of love, family and joy, Dorothy passed away at their home in Claremont,” his family added. “He found happiness again with Claremont resident Nancy Whitham until her death in 2018.”

After many years in Claremont, he moved to Encinitas, California in 2019 to live closer to his daughters.

“He had a razor-sharp wit and great sense of humor, always quick with a joke or a pun,” his family said. “For Jim’s 95th birthday, his family created a video biography to commemorate and celebrate his exceptional life. It can be enjoyed here:”

James Graham is survived by his children, Rick (Phoebe), Patricia (Adam), and Carol (Vann); four grandchildren who adored him, Megan, Riley, Corey (Courtney) and Bennett; sister-in-law Lorraine Graham; and many nieces and nephews.

He was predeceased by his wife, Dorothy and his oldest son, James Jr.

“He leaves behind a legacy of unconditional kindness, love, wisdom, laughter, and unwavering dedication to his family and friends. His was a life well lived,” his family said.

A celebration of life will be held Saturday, February 3 in Encinitas. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to a favorite charity.


Submit a Comment

Share This