Village loses longtime judge with ‘heart of gold’
After more than 30 years, Justice Peter Graham left his mark on Port Jefferson.
The village judge, who died on Tuesday afternoon, will be remembered for his personality and for his service to the court — but his path to that position was a little out of order.
Born on July 4, 1930, to Pedro and Helen Graham, the Brooklyn-born Peter Graham didn’t always know he would study law. He entered seminary at age 14 and stayed for four years before he realized that it wasn’t for him. Known for his sense of humor, the justice freely described his decision as being guided by his aversion to “the two Cs”: chastity and celibacy.
He hung up his cassock and went to college, studying biology and chemistry before heading to law school.
In an interview in July, Graham said he took a detour before reaching the courtroom, serving in the U.S. Army.
“When I finished law school, I felt that I owed my country two years of my life,” Graham said.
It was in the service that he got his first hands-on law experience, as he was appointed the district attorney of his battalion and was tasked with prosecuting murder, assault and rape cases.
Graham rose from those humble beginnings to eventually become a village justice in 1983. He was most recently re-elected in June.
“All I do is try to be fair to the people,” he said earlier this year. He described his experience living in Port Jefferson and serving as a village justice as “a pleasure.”
Mayor Margot Garant, who knew Graham since she was a child, called him a “dear friend.”
“It’d be really fair to say that [he] was just an integral part of everyone’s life here in the village,” she said.
The mayor referred to the justice’s personality as “friendly, personable, jovial.”
“He will be absolutely irreplaceable,” Garant said. “There’s not going to be one person … that will ever be able to step into his shoes.”
Graham had the respect of both residents and the people who worked with him.
“He’s awesome. I’ve actually worked for eight judges and he is one of my top,” Village Court Clerk Christine Wood said in an interview in July. “He’s the most caring gentleman, and I don’t say that about many people. He’s got a heart of gold.”
Graham is survived by his loving Mary Ellen Mulligan; children Kim (Jim) Sloane and Patrick Mulligan; beloved grandchildren Jimmy, Patrick, Sean and Shannon; dear sister Maureen and brother Robert (Millie) Graham; along with Phyllis Graham and children Peter, Paul, Mary Jane and Christopher, and Mary Jane’s daughter Nina. He is also survived by other grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
“He was a magnificent grandfather,” Mulligan said on Wednesday. “You couldn’t have a better human being, a better man.”
A memorial celebration will be held at the Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket on Friday, from 6 to 10 p.m. A funeral Mass will take place the next morning, at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson at 9 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Stony Brook Cancer Center and to the loving nurses and aides of 19 North.