In memoriam: An ode to the people who move us


Joe Graft poses for a portrait on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Corrie McCroskey | Staff

Corrie McCroskey

At the end of January, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing a man named Joe Graft. I needed a subject for our Humans of UK column, and a friend passed off his name and contact information to me. What I didn’t realize was how meeting Joe would have a lasting and profound effect on me.

Around a week or two after I wrote the story and spent nearly an hour getting to know Joe, learning about his childhood, his passions and what he truly loved, Joe passed. It was sudden, in the early hours of the night. He was 76, but he was healthy and getting ready to enjoy retirement this coming spring.

At first, I didn’t know what to do. I was sitting in a coffee shop when I got the text that he was gone. I sat in stillness; tears started to roll down my cheeks. I had my sketchpad with me, so I started to draw and express myself through the tip of my pen. By the end, I felt numb — in fact, I spent several days after trying to escape the numbness.

Why, you may ask, was I suddenly emotional from the loss of a man who I hardly knew? A man who didn’t know I existed up until two weeks ago? And that’s the thing — though I had only just met Joe, I felt like I really knew him.

Simply put, that is the power of journalism. Of storytelling. Of investing your time into other human beings so that you can create a shared and lasting bond even in the span of an hour. I truly believe that real, soulful, human connection is one of the single-most important parts of this life.

Another part of losing Joe was realizing just how precious and short our time is. One moment I was interviewing Joe and smiling behind my mask at the fact that he had written notes before the interview so he could be prepared. Yet, in the next moment, the inspiring human being I had just gotten to know disappeared.

Fast forward another week: I was sitting in the pews at Joe’s funeral. I listened to the stories his family told of him and his life. I watched the photos I’d taken play across the TV screens at the front of the room along with countless others that showed who Joe was.

I hugged his daughter Chelsea and told her how amazing her father was. We listened to a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and I cried the entire time. Then it was over. But the profoundness of my short time with Joe won’t ever be lost.

Here he was, sitting in a building on the UK campus for almost 50 years, and no one ever told his story. It seemed surreal that finally his story was shared to the entire community and not a month later, he lets go.

Joe’s passing was shocking, saddening and made me feel small, like I was just one among many other infinite flecks of matter in the universe. But it also made me feel joy that I was able to give him one last gift before he left and touch the hearts of his loved ones.

All of this to say: we need to love more, connect more and open our hearts to people we don’t know. Because who knows? Maybe, just maybe, we can learn something about someone, and they can teach us even more about ourselves.

Godspeed Joe; you moved me, and I will never forget it.