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James D. McGraw, 87, of Sheffield

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By Monday, Jan 7, 2019 Obituaries

James D. McGraw, 87, passed away peacefully at home Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, surrounded by his loving family. Like Theodore Roosevelt’s triumphant “man in the arena,” he devoted his entire life to his family, church, business community and country.

Born Oct. 10, 1931, in the Dust Bowl town of Ringling, Oklahoma, during the height of the Great Depression, Jim knew what it was like to live among those trying to cope with adverse economic circumstances. His sunny disposition was a product of his loving parents, Sterling and Ruth, who encouraged his academic and religious education. He enrolled in Texas Tech University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy. As a young man, he had aspirations to become a minister, but the global upheavals of World War II inspired him to take a more active role on the international stage. Toward that end, he pursued his master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University.

Upon graduation from Columbia, Jim joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a lieutenant assigned to the Naval Security Station in Washington, D.C., the department of the Navy responsible for cryptanalysis. During his period of service, he met Nelda Vaughter, the woman who would become his wife and the love of his life for 62 years. Together they raised three loving and accomplished daughters: Jenna, Nyna and Melinda.

In 1961, the Kennedy administration formed the United States Agency for International Development, an organization responsible for administering socio-economic aid to foreign countries. A former fellow Naval officer recruited Jim to join USAID. He was stationed in Cyprus and then Bangladesh, and was tasked with setting up capital assistance programs throughout the region. He, along with Nelda and their daughters, traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East, exposing the family to many cultures, religions and traditions. Despite personal danger, Jim consulted with leaders of war-torn regions and helped them modernize their communities amidst harrowing conditions. The fruits of the irrigation, electrification and other infrastructure projects that Jim helped implement stand today as testaments to his service.

When his growing reputation for leadership as well as his organizational and financial skills reached the private sector at home, ITT Corporation recruited Jim for a position in its treasury department. In 1975, he was promoted to executive vice president and treasurer of Sheraton Corporation, an ITT subsidiary. Jim was an architect behind Sheraton’s transformation into a world-class organization, expanding its hotel management operations and property investments throughout North America, Asia and Europe. He retired from Sheraton but continued to engage in commercial real estate consulting and served as chairman of the board of HMI Inc., a leading travel awards business.

Jim was an active member in Episcopal communities and generously volunteered his time and financial expertise to nonprofit organizations, youth camps and fundraising initiatives. He was a lifelong lover and patron of the arts. He and Nelda supported the Boston Symphony Orchestra and A.R.T. in Cambridge. After a lifetime of adventures that took him all over the world, Jim’s final home was in the beautiful Berkshires, where he found a community of friends who shared his values and sense of purpose.

Throughout his successful business career, Jim was always an attentive and loving father and husband and, after that, a doting grandfather and great-grandfather. His family, friends and former business associates will bask in the memory of his humor, intelligence and warm embraces. His character was his destiny and his unshakeable integrity will continue to be a guiding light.

He is survived by his wife, Nelda; his children Jenna, Nyna (Malley), and Melinda (McGraw-Pierson); his sons-in-law Bob Malley and Steve Pierson; his grandchildren James Malley, Rachel Malley, Ian Schlesinger, Alex Schlesinger and Lucy McGraw-Pierson; his great-grandchild James Malley Diez; and many beloved extended family members.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, at 11 a.m. at Christ Trinity Church in Sheffield. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory can be made to the James McGraw Memorial Fund at Christ Trinity Church, 180 Main St., Sheffield, MA  01257. To send remembrances to the family, go to http://www.finnertyandstevens.com.

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