World War II Army veteran, former Norlina mayor and retired local businessman Graham Parham Grissom died on Monday, June 3, at his home in Norlina at the age of 100.
Grissom will be remembered for remaining active in various capacities in his community for much of his life, including entertaining family and friends at his 100th birthday celebration in November.
“He was amazing,” said Norlina Mayor Dwight Pearce. “We are far worse off now that he is no longer here to give us his wisdom and knowledge.”
The son of the late Thomas Jarvis Grissom and Ada Elizabeth Grissom, Graham Grissom grew up in the Ridgeway-Drewry community. After attending Drewry School, he graduated from Middleburg High School and Louisburg College.
In high school, he was active in basketball and baseball, and was the 100-yard dash champion.
On June 4, 1939, Grissom married the former Mildred Harris, whom he described as the love of his life. The Grissoms began their married lives together in Henderson, where he went into the dry cleaning business with his brother-in-law. Graham and Mildred’s daughter, Patricia Louise, was born in 1942.
In April 1944, Graham answered his country’s call for service in World War II by joining the United States Army. He was a sergeant in the 1258th Combat Engineer Battalion in the 3rd Army, serving under General George S. Patton.
The battalion fought in the Battle of the Bulge, Rhineland and Central Europe, earning three bronze stars.
After the war ended, Graham served at the Palace of Justice where the Nuremberg war crimes trials were held. His military service mementos included the signatures of two war criminals imprisoned there, Herman Goering and Karl Donitz.
Graham was honorably discharged from military service in February 1946, and the Grissom family moved to Norlina, where Graham opened Grissom Service Cleaners in 1946.
In the late 1940s, he was elected to the Norlina Town Board, serving as mayor pro-tem until 1953. Graham went on to serve as mayor from 1953 until June 1969.
In 1963, Graham and Mildred Grissom purchased Modern Cleaners and Fashion Cleaners in Warrenton, and Graham continued to operate dry cleaning businesses in both Norlina and Warrenton. The Grissoms continued to serve as consultants for 10 after selling the businesses to Robert Jenkins in 1984.
Graham was elected to the board of directors of the Citizens Bank in Warrenton in 1967. The bank later merged with Branch Banking & Trust Company, and Graham retired from the BB&T board in 1995.
Both Graham and Mildred served as members of the International Fabricare Institute and N.C. Association of Launderers and Cleaners. Graham served on the association’s board of directors and was its president in 1970.
He also has served in a number of capacities at Norlina United Methodist Church, including teacher of the Men’s Sunday school class.
Graham and Mildred spent more than 70 years together before Mildred passed away in 2011.
The community that Graham served for many years honored him in a number of ways. In 2008, a portion of Norlina’s Walker Avenue running between Hyco Street and U.S. 1, the block where Grissom Cleaners stood, was renamed Grissom Avenue. Eight years later, in 2016, he was presented with a Quilt of Valor in recognition of his military service, which included fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Graham also served as the grand marshal of the Independence Day Parade in Wise in 2017.
Pearce reflected on Graham’s service to his community.
“I think he was the best mayor Norlina has ever had,” he said. “He was a fine Christian gentleman. I don’t know if I have known a better person.
Blaylock Funeral Home in Warrenton is handling arrangements. The family will receive friends from 6:30-8 p.m. today (Wednesday) at the funeral home. The funeral service will be conducted at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 6, at Norlina United Methodist Church by Dr. Jim P. Harris and Pastor Hyung S. Kim. Burial will follow in Warrendale Cemetery.