Watch CBS News

South Florida mourns loss of former Florida Governor, U.S. Senator Bob Graham

South Florida remembers former governor, senator Bob Graham
South Florida remembers former governor, senator Bob Graham 04:10

MIAMI - South Florida is mourning the loss of former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

He died Tuesday night surrounded by his family in a retirement community in Gainesville. Graham was 87. 

"We are deeply saddened to report the passing of a visionary leader, dedicated public servant, and even more importantly, a loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather: Bob Graham.

As a legislator, Florida's 38th Governor, and a United States Senator, Bob Graham devoted his life to the betterment of the world around him. The memorials to that devotion are everywhere - from the Everglades and other natural treasures he was determined to preserve, to the colleges and universities he championed with his commitment to higher education, to the global understanding he helped to foster through his work with the intelligence community, and so many more," the Graham family said in a statement.

Graham's political career spanned five decades, beginning with his election to the Florida House of Representatives in 1966. He won a state Senate seat in 1970, was elected governor in 1978, and was re-elected in 1982. Four years later, he won the first of three terms in the U.S. Senate when he ousted incumbent Republican Paula Hawkins.

Graham remained widely popular with Florida voters, winning re-election by wide margins in 1992 and 1998 when he carried 63 of 67 counties.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle agreed that Graham left a lasting legacy.

"Bob Graham was a selfless public servant, whose legacy and impact will live on. From his days in the state House to his days in the governor's mansion and the U.S. Senate, Bob Graham always understood whom he served. It was a core value, one that he lived out even after he retired from public service. Florida, and the nation, lost a very good man. Jeanette and I are praying for Adele, their kids, and the entire Graham family," said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in a statement.

"Bob Graham was a good man and a great Floridian who dedicated his life to our state. His legacy will live forever, not because of any title he held, but for what he did with those opportunities to improve Florida and the lives of families in the Sunshine State. Ann and I are heartbroken to learn of his passing. He and Adele have been so kind to our family and we will cherish the time we spent together. Please join us in praying for the Graham family and all who mourn Bob's passing," Republican U.S. Senator Rick Scott posted on X.

During a bill signing Wednesday at a Hialeah Garden museum, Governor Ron DeSantis said, "We mourn The passing of Bob Graham. He was a great Floridian. He served this state with honor and integrity. He really made a great contribution. We will give him Honors and lower the flags to half staff once the date of internment is publicized which we think is appropriate."

"Bob Graham was a genuine and decent man. In any direction, his legacy pulses through Florida and anyone who calls it home. I was so fortunate to get to know him, to share our mutual love for our alma mater, the University of Florida, and to spend time listening to the nuggets of his vast experience and absorb his lessons whenever possible. Graham's devotion to higher education, the Everglades, national security, and a lasting commitment to public service, were only matched by his fidelity to his family," Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz posted on X. "With a vision for global understanding, and the courage to take on daunting tasks like seeking 9-11 answers, we were all fortunate to be touched by one of the greatest leaders Florida or the nation will ever know. I was profoundly fortunate to have known and worked with him for the betterment of our home state. May his memory be a blessing"

CBS News Miami's Peter D'Oench spoke with Wasserman Schultz who said, "His legacy of work has really permeated the entire state of Florida and anyone who calls it home. He was just such a people's representative. He did work days throughout his career and they were remarkable. There were at least 400 work days that brought him closer to the people to understand their work and it allowed him to get closer to the people who he loved and who he represented."

"He also did a remarkable job helping restore the Everglades and with his work on the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was to his credit that the 911 committee was established under his advocacy. Bob Graham represented an era of cooperation and collegiality. That was a priority and that has been so degraded."

Former Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said that Graham was his mentor.

Gelber saidm "I think Florida lost one of its greatest public servants in history. He was not just significant to Florida. He was significant to the nation. More than anything he was a model of civil discourse and the way you are supposed to be as a leader and as a statesman. Graham was able to connect with people personally. Even if you didn't know who he was, people felt like they knew who he was. He was honest and thoughtful and cared about people and gave them the sense he was working with them. He was known for his leadership helping the Everglades and public education."

Matt Jacobs, the Director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, said "He was much more interested in doing the most good for the most people. His ability to communicate with all people on all levels no matter what their background or their experience was part of his unique capacity." 

"It was with the deepest respect and sadness that I learned of the passing of Senator Bob Graham: a patriotic American and a great Member of the United States Senate. Paul and I extend our sympathy to his entire family, with gratitude for his distinguished public service," former Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi posted on X.

Graham also was known for his 408 "workdays," including stints as a housewife, boxing ring announcer, flight attendant and arson investigator.

"His very first workday - teaching citizenship at a Miami-Dade County high school - became a lifelong passion for helping Americans become effective citizens. That interest led to the creation of the University of Florida Bob Graham Center for Public Service, which will extend his legacy by ensuring future generations of leaders understand how to discharge their rights and responsibilities as citizens of our state, nation, and planet," the Graham family said in the statement.

In Miami Lakes, founded by the Graham family and where the Bob Graham Education Center is located realtor Alex Ruiz told CBS News Miami's Peter D'Oench, "I knew him. My uncle is one of the oldest tenants of Graham properties. It is a great loss and he was a great American and everyone mourns his loss. He was an excellent individual and a great politician. He did a lot for the state and the nation."

 "I think everybody loved Bob Graham. He was a great politician and a great family man. It is a great loss," said Hilda Lacayo.

"He was a great man who helped the community. Everyone in my family always talked about him. We will miss him," said Nilda Puchades. 

After leaving public life in 2005, Graham spent much of his time at a public policy center named after him and pushing the Legislature to require more civics classes in the state's public schools.

"Bob Graham would tell people his favorite title was not Governor or Senator. It was the name his grandchildren gave him: Doodle. 'When I'm really good, they call me Super Doodle,' he liked to say. For 87 years, Bob Graham was so much more than really good. He was a rare collection of public accomplishments and personal traits that combined to make him unforgettable. As his family, we will never forget his love for us, the love he had for Florida, the United States, and the world, and the love so many people showed him. We thank God for the gift of his life," said the Graham family in a statement.  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.