Goodbye to a legend

August 3, 2013

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Dee Gormley recalls first meeting John Graves. It was the fall of 1982, her first year as owner of Books on the Square in Granbury. She wanted the Texas literature giant for a book signing.

“I didn’t realize you don’t usually just look in the phone book and call an author of his caliber,” Gormley said.

“There is a protocol that is to be followed, involving the publisher, where famous authors are concerned. As I got to know John Graves, I realized he did not act at all like a famous author. He agreed to come, I ordered all his titles and we had the signing.”

Graves, best known for his 1960 classic “Goodbye to a River,” died Wednesday at his ranch outside Glen Rose. He was 92.

In “Goodbye to a River,” he chronicled his trip down the Brazos River, using nature, history and philosophy in masterful prose. He said he wanted to take the trip before dams flooded the river. Lake Granbury dam was built about 10 years after his adventure.

Graves was born in Fort Worth, studied literature at Rice University and was drafted into the military. He lost sight in one eye during battle and returned home to try writing fiction, but felt he wasn’t that good, said Texas State University professor Mark Busby who wrote a 2007 book about Graves.

Though considered private, Graves was no stranger to Gormley’s book store.

“For the next 20 years, he came for a signing every time a new book was published,” Gormley said. “Anytime I had a customer who wanted a special dedication, I would call him at his Hard Scrabble Ranch outside Glen Rose, and he would say, ‘I guess I could drop by when I go to Granbury for groceries,’ and he did.”

We heard about his desire for privacy and were thrilled when he agreed to an interview with then-Hood County News writer Kathy Smith in 2001.

Kathy drove to Hard Scrabble for the interview. She found him warm and inviting.

Said Gormley, “John seemed to me to be a very quiet, unassuming man. He struck me as a shy, very private person, but he possessed a wonderful, dry sense of humor. I never tired listening to his stories.”

Gary Marks lived in Glen Rose many years. He and Graves’ paths would cross at the post office or hospital. “He would drive up in a little white truck with a shaggy-haired dog in the bed,” Marks remembers.

They would exchange brief but pleasant conversations. “He would compliment me about my dad,” Marks said about his late father Dr. Roger Marks.

Most people in the Glen Rose and Granbury area didn’t know John Graves when they saw him. Those who did, however, had much admiration for the man.

Gormley once observed Graves at a gathering of major publishers and editors, and well-known regional and best-selling authors.

“Every one of them approached John Graves as if he were a rock star, saying, ‘Oh Mr. Graves, it is an honor to meet you!’” she said.

“John had that sly little smile on his face, always giving one the impression that he couldn’t really believe anyone thought he was special.”

Gormley believes he didn’t write for the accolades.

“I think he had unending thoughts in his amazing mind, and ideas that clamored to be revealed. He felt he had to share them with us.”

Aren’t we lucky he did?

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