In Grambo We Trust: The End of an Era

by Conor Goetz (’11)

Friday, May 28 was Precalculus teacher Mr. Richard Graham’s last day teaching at St. Albans.  After 18 years at St. Albans, Mr. Graham decided to go out in style and came to school clad in the forest green uniform he had sported as a First Lieutenant in South Vietnam in 1970, lending credibility to his moniker: “Grambo.”

After surveying my B period class for the last time, he spoke in his characteristic raspy voice, “Okay, I’m gonna give you guys two choices: we can spend today reviewing for the SAT II, or I can read you my latest novel.”  He then warned us that the passage he was going to read from his novel entitled Wounded: A Story Beyond Love and War, which is based on his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, contained raunchy and suggestive themes.  As if that would diminish our interest.  Listening to his vivid account of a thwarted romance between First Lieutenant Alexander Marwick and Cleo, the alluring, French Red Cross worker, we realized that we were privileged to have spent the past nine months with “Grambo.”

Mr. Graham grew up locally in Severna Park, Maryland, where he was a football and lacrosse standout at the Severn School.  He continued his football, lacrosse, and ass-kicking careers at Princeton University.   At Princeton, he played lightweight football, captained the Ivy League champion Princeton lacrosse squad, and joined the ROTC because, as he poignantly explained, “chicks dig officers.”

Mr. Graham expected the war in Vietnam to end before his 1967 graduation, but, instead, the Tet Offensive occurred the following year, and he enlisted.  He spent his first year in the service doing intelligence work in Washington, D.C.  In 1969, the United States deployed “Grambo” to Saigon, where he was a REMF (Rear Echelon Mother F____r).   Using his calculus prowess, Mr. Graham calculated the drop of projectiles with trigonometric and parabolic functions.

While many of his fellow soldiers detested Vietnam, Mr. Graham was fascinated with the area, which he describes as one of the most romantic regions on the planet.   When he was discharged, he was inspired to explore more of the world and traveled to China, India, Indonesia, and Turkey before returning home.

Mr. Graham, like other returning Vietnam vets, was hardly greeted by the American public as a returning hero.  The hostility he faced was particularly acute because he enrolled at UC Berkeley’s Business School, a hotbed of anti-war sentiment.  While at Berkeley, he fell in love with his future wife, and they moved to Nice, France, where his career as a math teacher began.  In 1992, Mr. Graham began teaching math at St. Albans, a job he has adored.

Mr. Graham noted that his students have become increasingly competitive and work harder than ever.  For many years, Mr. Graham also coached the JV lacrosse team, and, in what will undoubtedly become a legendary chapter in St. Albans athletic lore, Mr. Graham beat Matt “Rhino” McJunkin (’12) to the cage in the 2009 Alumni Game.

Mr. Graham’s beloved wife suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and he lives next to his parents, both of whom are in their 90’s.  His father, a World War II vet, loves to tell war stories and has heavily influenced Mr. Graham’s career as a novelist.

For the past five years, the dedicated husband and son has departed St. Albans every day after C period to travel to his home, all the way in Severna Park, Maryland, to be with his family.  He is looking forward to spending even more time with his wife, their two grown children, and his parents after his retirement.  St. Albans is not only losing one of its all-time great math teachers, it is also losing one of its most unique and colorful men.

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