Friday, 14 Dec 2018

Truckin’: A Note From John Graham

 

A note from Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director John Graham, reflecting on his 28-year tenure at the Frank Erwin Center. Graham will retire at the end of August 2017.

As I arrive near the end of this phase of my life, to quote the 1970 Grateful Dead song “Truckin,'” “lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

The reality is I never planned this trip. I could plan my day, and, if I strung a few days together, I might plan a reasonable portion of a week, but I could never have planned this 37-year trip. From event manager at the Assembly Hall at The University of Illinois to my role in Austin as Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for the Frank Erwin Center at The University of Texas at Austin and all the related personal and family elements- there was no plan. For me, I now realize the unplanned, unintended collateral consequences in life is the road I am on. The best I could do was either dodge the damage or embrace the opportunities as they came up. Like street and warning signs, I just tried to keep the truck on the road.

When I arrived in Austin in late April 1989, driving my un-air-conditioned, 1975 Corvette stuffed with a couple of black, plastic bags full of clothes and some personal items, I weighed 195 pounds and was semi-freaked out each morning when I walked into the Erwin Center. Austin and The University of Texas and the Erwin Center was a big step up from my previous gig and I was quite aware that I needed to step lively and higher if I wanted to make this work. Fortunately, the great crew at the Erwin Center took me in and gave me reasonable comfort and support when I really needed it. My wife and son had yet to arrive in Austin and the first 3 months living in UT student housing on West 6th Street was a challenge. Especially, the Texas heat. Did I mention that my Corvette had no A/C?
Somehow, I survived.

Along the way, so many fine and sometimes quirky folks have been part of the Erwin Center Family. You know you have been somewhere a while when you see folks come to work here, and this is their first or second job in their career, and you see them leave the Erwin Center, come back to the Erwin Center, have children, get divorced, have grandchildren, and so on. Some have retired, illness has come along, some of our fellow Erwinites have passed away, and sometimes one of their children has come to work here. It’s like a little village where life happens to the villagers and everyone is working together and hoping for the best.

And this little village has done some pretty cool things over the last 28 years: hundreds of UT Men’s and Women’s basketball games, NCAA Basketball, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, David Bowie, Lady Gaga, NCAA Volleyball Final Four, Taylor Swift, AC/DC, Pink Floyd Laser Light Spectacular, The Davis Cup, Tina Turner, TSO, President Clinton, Eagles, iHeart, the AMD Holiday Party, American Idol, WWE, Tom Petty, UIL and so many more.

And the Erwin Center village made it through a major renovation and the construction of the Medical School and the security concerns associated with a crazy changing world.

A long strange road indeed. And the road goes on, and while there may not seem to be a plan…that is the plan.

Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, a full tank, avoid the potholes and try to keep the A/C working.

Funny… I still drive a Corvette.

John Graham and Erwin Center staff with the Dalai Lama during his 2005 visit to the Frank Erwin Center.

John Graham, Singer Stevie Nicks, Jimmy Earl and Liz Land at the Frank Erwin Center in 2017.

John Graham and Erwin Center staff with Dolly Parton in 2016.

John Graham donning a WWF belt with Jimmy Earl.

John Graham and Erwin Center staff with KISS in 2009.

John Graham with Louis Messina, Taylor Swift and Frank Erwin Center staff in 2013.

 

Graham is only the second director of the Frank Erwin Center, following Dean Justice, CFE who opened the venue in 1977. Graham got his start in the arena industry in 1980 as the Events Manager of Assembly Hall (now State Farm Center) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He spent nine years at Assembly Hall, working his way up to Assistant Director and then Associate Director, before moving to Austin to join the Frank Erwin Center as Associate Director in May of 1989. He was then promoted to Director in October of 1990.

During Graham’s 28-year tenure, he was instrumental in bringing world renowned events to the Frank Erwin Center including the first ever WWF (now WWE) event in 1989, which was a sellout with approximately 17,000 fans in attendance, the Davis Cup quarterfinal between the U.S and Spain in 2011, two nights of Paul McCartney’s 2013 “Out There” tour, a project which took approximately two years to come to fruition, and most recently, the iHeartCountry Music Festival, which returned for its fourth year this past May.

Please join us in congratulating John Graham on his retirement and wishing him the best in this next chapter.

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