Ocala police officers processed down the aisle at First Baptist Church of Ocala on Friday to honor their leader, coworker and dear friend.
An American flag was draped over the coffin of Chief Greg Graham, and those who spoke at his service described how his dedication and diligence in serving the Ocala community was reflected through his tendency to help others every chance he had.
Graham served as Ocala police chief from 2012 until Sunday, when he died in a plane crash in a field in Marion County. He was piloting the plane, and he had recently gotten his pilot’s license, Federal Aviation Administration officials told the Ocala Star-Banner this week. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation of the crash and should have a preliminary report ready within the next two weeks.
Ocala City Attorney Patrick Gilligan had a very close relationship with Graham, and he considered him to be a role model.
He said on Friday that Graham was constantly busy answering phone calls made by Ocala residents. Gilligan mentioned he was intrigued by his leadership style, as Graham even befriended several people he had previously arrested.
“He never got a break … it happened all the time,” he said. “Someone called Greg, and he answered the call, and he was there for you… That was what he loved to do.”
Graham was survived by his wife and his three children. Kalin Graham, the youngest child, said she cherishes every memory spent with her father, but that her favorite memory of him was when he experienced a day in the life of her career as a firefighter.
“My dad is my favorite person in the entire world, and I don’t quite know what I’m going to do without my daddy,” she said. “But I hope that I make you proud every day.”
His oldest child, Tyler, is also a firefighter, and he showed up to a scene where his dad was present.
“I look up at the ambulance, and there’s my dad. He’s in the back of the ambulance with two paramedics cutting the patient’s clothes off,” Tyler Graham said. “That’s just who he was: a person who wanted to help and be there for people. I stood up at the back of the ambulance, touched my dad’s shoulder, and said ‘I got this.’”
Graham touched his family, the Ocala Police Department and community officials like Mayor Kent Guinn. Guinn said the best decision he ever made was calling him to come back to Ocala and serve as chief.
He said Graham made a big impact on his life. They would meet twice monthly — every other Wednesday — and he said that he reflected on all the things he had taught him the Wednesday after he passed.
“He taught me to be patient. Things have a way of working themselves out, he would say. Just be patient,” Guinn said. “There’s always at least two sides of every story. Through all of this, I learned to be a better person and a better mayor.”
Guinn said Graham lived his life by five rules:
- Do the right thing.
- Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
- Find ways to say yes.
- Treat everyone with respect.
- Have fun.
Richard Bianculli, chairman of the Marion County Hospital District Board of Trustees, told the mayor that the district will commemorate Graham’s extensive work in helping combat the opioid crisis through a substance abuse facility to be called the Chief Greg Graham Recovery Center.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody offered in remembrance that Graham’s loving personality is what struck her.
“What stood out to me was because of that big heart. He cared about the people that were affected by it,” she said. “He didn’t just tell people he cared about it, he did something.”
All of those who spoke at the service pointed out Graham’s sense of empathy, his love for the Ocala community and his zest for life.
“He liked to go fast,” Pastor Mark Cummins said. “Some would say he was an adrenaline junkie. He really believed that life is a gift from God.”