September 10, 2009

A Former Boss, A Forever Friend

garyBy Gary Metivier

It was twelve years ago, fresh off a delayed and bumpy prop puddle jumper from St. Louis. I made my way in for “The Interview”at KWQC. Across from the big desk was Jim Graham, a man who would change my life.

I was nervous about the interview. I really wanted the job. I had a wife and a toddler who depended upon me. We were looking for a place to put down some roots and become part of the community. This was the place we wanted it to be. I had already talked several times with the News Director. I had already met the news staff and taped some demo bits on the unfamiliar news set. But now came the big moment — an interview with the general manager of the station. This was it! You mess this up—and you might as well pack it in.

In my mind I thought about how to handle this. Sure I was tired, excited, and nervous. I had lost a button on my suit coat during the flight. I was trying to conceal that fact. What questions would he ask? What answers would he be looking for? Will he be trying to ‘stump the chump’ as we sometimes say in television news?

I figured the best thing to do was just be myself and see what happened. Let him know who I really am— nothing held back. If he wanted a slick, fast-talking, flashy news anchor with over-the-top fabricated energy and exaggerated claims of self-worth — I wasn’t the man for the job anyway. Turns out – I was the man for the job — because the man behind the desk was Jim Graham.

Jim and Gary enjoy a conversation at a post-holiday get-together in January, 2009.

Jim and Gary enjoy a conversation at a post-holiday get-together in January, 2009.

Right away Jim put me at ease with his warm, honest smile and his folksy demeanor. His Kansas roots and my Oklahoma raising gave us some small rivalry we could tease each other about. We made a connection right away. Instead of the tough journalism ethics questions and the ‘where do you want to be in 5 years’ queries, he simply asked about my life growing up, my family then, and my family now. He wanted to know if I really wanted to become part of something that is more than just news — it was about ‘community.’ Would I be interested in representing the station at community events, schools, Rotaries, nursing homes? Would I want to be part of something that constantly gives back to the loyal viewers who tune in day in and day out for our broadcasts? Would I understand the responsibility and accountability that comes with being part of a dominate number 1 station that was built on the hard work of not one person, but of decades of dedicated teams of people Quad Citians have trusted since its humble beginnings on Brady Street Hill so long ago?

Now I was more excited than ever. All my concerns and nervous energy faded away. I knew I was the guy for the job, and judging by our conversation, Jim knew I was, too.

I returned home to tell my wife about the people I had met and the mission that they held so dear. We were heading to a new home, a new life, a community we could really become a part of; the first for both of us in a life of moving around, never really putting down firm roots. We were waiting for just the right place. And it appeared we had just found it.

Twelve years have passed. In those years I have seen the man live up to his own expectations of others. I was at American Heart Association’s Heart Walks with Jim, who brought his mother along and worked tirelessly in the rain and cold to make sure things ran smoothly year after year. I have been there as Jim unloaded truckloads of boxes at March of Dimes walks. I was with him and Eloise and their children and grandchildren as they put hours after hours into the TV6 Women’s Lifestyle events and stood in our station driveway collecting and sorting donations for everything from Toys For Tots to hurricane relief. He was there for setup in the mornings and part of the teardowns at night.

There was even the time we had a roof partially collapse just minutes before news time at 10 pm. The roofers were making repairs and putting up a temporary tarp on our flat roof to keep the rain out. We had a heavy downpour one night— and soon, after bulging with tons of water, the tarp burst like a giant water balloon. The downpour was now pouring through the roof and into the studio like a tidal wave. Within minutes Jim was out of his house and into the studio – mop in hand, alongside everyone else. That’s the kind of leader and the kind of man Jim Graham was.

With the passing of Jim, I faced another tough interview — make that ‘interviews.’ After learning of his passing, I sat down with some of those who worked closest to the man for so many years to tape some stories to share with our viewers. It is not easy asking your friends to talk about a man all of you just lost. Everyone involved would find it much easier to just cry and hug each other — much easier than talking into a television camera and trying to hold it together. But they all wanted to help those who may not have had the pleasure of knowing him — get the chance to feel as if they do. I would later receive emails that would support that —“I never met the man — but thanks to the station’s coverage — I feel like I do. And I think I would have enjoyed knowing such a man.”

I was one of the lucky ones who enjoyed getting to know such a man. Thankfully, not that long ago, my wife and I had the chance to let him and Eloise know how much our family appreciates what they have done for us. He changed my life and the lives of many others. His leadership, his passion, and his legacy live on inside each of us. For me it started with that first interview twelve years ago and continues to grows even stronger after the last interviews to honor this man who meant so much to so many.

Goodnight, Jim.

Filed Under: Community, Personal Growth

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