Tomorrow, nearly nine years after he died an avoidable death, David Graves‘s spirit will be willing his beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers to victory at the Stadium of Light. David was a globetrotting reporter and a great colleague and friend. I imagine him in some far-off, dusty and maybe dangerous spot, fiddling with the internet links he seemed able to find even all those years ago. David would not have expected me to want Wolves to win today, and I do not.
But in his honour, and thinking very much of his wife Diana and their two boys Oliver and Nathan, Wolfies all, I hope very much that other results go for them and that they clinch survival on the final day. The following, reproduction of which has been inspired by the friendship shown by so many Wolves supporters this week and in the past, originally appeared at another of my websites, Salut!, on the fifth anniversary of his death …
Every so often, you still hear that extravagant, rising laugh of his.
You imagine him back in the old Telegraph newsroom. There, he’d be approaching each task with customary professionalism. If things were quiet, he’d be wandering from desk to desk showing quizzical interest in what others were up to.
For certain, he’d still be irritating the newsdesk on a regular basis with whinges about the paper’s inexplicable failure to send a reporter (by implication him) on this or that (preferably foreign) story. And he’d still be boring everyone to bits about Wolverhampton Wanderers and U2.
But David is not there. Five years ago today (as it was when this article first appeared, in 2007), just a few weeks after his 50th birthday, he died in an accident that should not have happened while on a press diving trip to the Bahamas.
At the moment news came through next morning, I was sitting on the newsdesk fielding a call from an irate reader. “Get them off the line,” someone called out. “David Graves is dead.”
There was an immediate need for someone to go to David’s home and be with his wife, Diana, and their two sons, Oliver, then eight, and six-year-old Nathan. I was the logical choice. David and I had known each other for a quarter of a century since we were at the Press Association together; he and Diana were good friends and our homes were no more than a couple of miles apart.
Vivid memories of the rest of that day will remain with me for ever. I would not even want to forget the serenity and skill that Diana somehow mustered to tell the boys their father was not coming home.
She had been awoken long before dawn by a knock on the door. It had fallen to some poor policeman on night shift to call round and break the news.
Wisely enough, she packed the boys off to school first thing as normal. But on my advice, she went back to collect them before the midday break. With the speed of communications, I was concerned about the risk, however slight, of them hearing about it in the playground.
Back at home, Diana fussed around the boys, plying them with drinks and biscuits while she summoned the courage for the worst duty she had ever faced as a mother. Then she sat them down at the dining room table.
Calmly, almost as if telling a bedtime story, she explained how Daddy had died.
She recalled the times before bed when she had put a globe in front of them and got them to point to where he happened to be, and then to say goodnight. She reminded them of how excited Daddy had been about his trip, and how happy he had sounded when calling home, just the day before. Slowly, she arrived at the point where the word “accident” had to be mentioned.
One of the boys – I think it was Oliver – briefly became angry, having guessed that something awful must have happened; mums don’t take you out of school for nothing.
There was no easy way for Diana that morning, but she had risen above her own unspeakable anguish to lessen her sons’ pain. Much of the rest of the day was devoted to keeping them preoccupied and, after the inevitable tears, they behaved admirably.
I will be thinking a lot about all of them on today’s anniversary of the tragedy.
David, the husband and father they lost, was an exceptional character. Tall and confident, he brought reassurance to any gathering. I seem to recall that he persuaded a BA pilot to upgrade a group of servicemen returning to the UK on a scheduled flight from some desert war training exercise.
In common with many people who worked for the Telegraph, David was not a Tory. The politics could safely be left to others; he was content to do his bit to make the news pages the best in daily journalism.
And David did do his bit. He was a great reporter in the old-fashioned sense of wanting to obtain and share the most accurate details of any story he was covering. He knew how to convey those facts with clarity and conviction, and he had no interest in invention or exaggeration.
He would have found plenty to moan about these days. He had no aversion to hard work and was no Lunchtime O’Booze.
But unless there was a good reason to remain at his desk, he believed in the lunch break and would have laughed at anyone – they’re all over the place now – who thought it unprofessional to take one. He would have grumbled loudly about the practice of filling pages with anonymous news agency reports.
Yet in other respects, David would have found himself suited to modern ways (you may be thinking “it was only 2002”, but consider how things have changed in even that short period).
He was good with gadgets, quick to adapt to new technology. He was made for today’s diversified approach to delivering newspaper content to readers.
This posting has very little to do with France (a reference to the website’s then preoccupation with French and Anglo-French subjects). But David’s last assignment involved a cross-Channel visit a few days before his death thousands of miles away in the other direction.
Much of his career was spent covering wars, bombings, disaster. That last trip, before he went to the Bahamas, was also war-related, but in a gentler sense.
On July 2 2002, the paper carried his report from the Somme about the progress of work on the Thiepval visitor centre that has opened since his death. And on his return to London, David wrote about an appeal for funds by the Friends of War Memorials, now called War Memorials Trust, which works to preserve 60,000 war memorials in Britain and overseas.
These were hardly the biggest stories David had been asked to handle. But given that ours is a predominantly thankless trade, it is heartening to note that the Friends marked his death by establishing the David Graves Memorial Fund, which each year chooses an appropriate project to be financed by funds donated as a result, directly or indirectly, of his reporting.
* I acknowledge the kindnesses of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and especially Rachel Heyhoe Flint, the former captain of the England women’s cricket team and a director of the club, in honouring David’s memory in different ways, from a tribute in the matchday programme to warm welcomes at Wolves games for Diana, Oliver and Nathan. Small changes have been made to reflect the years that have passed since this originally appeared. Had he lived, and by now been enjoying retirement, David would probably have travelled up to Sunderland for the game. I remember him once watching Wolves reserves play our second string. He was in the area so saw no reason not to. RIP pal.