John C. Graves died on October 13, 2003. He was a 65-year old gay man who came out, as he died, ahead of his time. Born and raised in New York City, Graves earned his doctorate at Princeton and taught philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1964 to 1974.
According to biographers (including himself), Graves came out of the closet in 1972, three years after the Stonewall Riots, when most men of his age still felt too unsafe to share such information outside of small circles of friends. He became an activist and went on to help found the Gay Academic Union of New England and the Boston Center for Lesbians and Gay Men.
At around this same time, Graves inherited a sizeable fortune, which allowed him to leave education and pursue his career as a psychotherapist, practicing at the Homophile Community Health Service in Boston.
In 1990, Graves and his partner, Raymond Trevino, took up winter residence in Fort Lauderdale reserving Provincetown for summers. In South Florida he found many more organizations to support with his time and money. An avid reader with a self-published autobiography, Many Roads Traveled, Graves engaged early and long with the Stonewall Library and Archives and the Sunshine Cathedral among others.
“John wanted us to dispense his wealth to gay and lesbian organizations in South Florida where it could be most useful in championing the cause of gay equality,” said Wilton Manors Attorney Dean Trantalis, one of the trustees for the fund. “We’ve taken our lead from his own patterns of giving while he was alive and we’re sure he would be happy with our choices.”
Trantalis pointed out that some of the fund’s largest gifts have been to the Stonewall Library and Archives, the Pride Center at Equality Park and the Sunshine Cathedral Foundation.
“John supported these and other fundamental organizations that today we take for granted but which might not be here without his generosity,” Trantalis said. Five thousand dollars 20 years ago could mean the difference between success and failure.”
Yet another agency that benefited from Graves’ posthumous gifts includes the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project where Graves’ money supported Robert Rosenwald, the attorney who overturned the Florida gay adoption ban in 2010.
“We helped underwrite the move to the new Pride Center with a gift of $100,000 a year for six years,” Trantalis added. “And [the fund provided] another $600,000 to help renovate and build out the new library at ArtServe.”
According to Trantalis, the Graves Fund started with $3.1 million which the trustees opted to place under management with the Community Foundation of Broward. There’s about $700,000 left which puts it on target to achieve Graves’ goal of distributing all the assets by the tenth year after his death.
Carl Trough, another trustee for the fund, and a long-time friend of Graves, has also helped distribute the funds in line with his friends’ wishes.
“We met a few years after I retired,” Trough said. “We kept running in to each other at different board meetings and advocacy events. One Christmas shortly after I first started meeting him I got a Christmas card thanking me for being so involved in issues and programs of importance to the gay community.”
“John valued people for their inner qualities and commitments,” Trough added. “You didn’t have to have a lot of money to be his friend.”
“John wanted the fund to focus its financial assistance on the Pride Center, the MCC Church [Sunshine Cathedral] and the Stonewall Library,” he added. “Probably the most important gift we’ve given since managing the fund was the assistance we gave the Pride Center to move into their wonderful new facility.”
“John was such a wonderful man,” Trough said. “It was a terrible loss when he died so young but we’ve done our best to honor his commitments and I’m sure he would be pleased.”