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Star's Jack Graves to Be in Press Hall of Fame

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 13:24
Jack Graves was on the job at a Pierson High School basketball game last year.
Craig Macnaughton

If you’ve been to a high school basketball game, a tennis match, or a 5K on the South Fork any time in the last 45 years, you’ve probably seen The East Hampton Star’s sports editor, Jack Graves, on the sidelines, faithfully scribbling notes as the players advance toward jubilant victory or the agony of defeat. 

But before Graves took over the sports desk back in 1979 — an assignment he refers to as the “joy department” — he was The Star’s sole fulltime reporter, starting in October 1967, and wrote a weekly column, “Point of View,” as well. That put him on the beat at fires, town and village board meetings, Ladies Village Improvement Society fairs, Lions Club barbecues, and just about any event of importance or curiosity that happened hereabouts. 

When four calves’ heads were found on a Springs beach in 1977, Graves followed the investigation right into the kitchen of the chef Pierre Franey, who’d dumped them into Gardiner’s Bay for the gulls after a failed cooking experiment with his friend Craig Claiborne. The headline: “Severed Heads Mystify.” 

When the County Health Department tried to evict Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, “Little” Edie, from Grey Gardens in the fall of 1971, Graves was on the story. “I remember Edie Beale saying to me, ‘Oh, Mr. Graves, East Hampton is so beautiful on the outside but so ugly on the inside,’ “ he recalls. 

He wrote about the case of the artist Robert Gwathmey, arrested by East Hampton Town police in June 1970 for flying an American flag, with a peace symbol in place of the stars, at his Amagansett property. Gwathmey fought the charges and the state law behind them all the way to the Supreme Court, which declared the law unconstitutional in 1974. 

All this is by way of saying that when the Press Club of Long Island inducts Graves into its Journalism Hall of Fame next Thursday evening, it won’t only be for his decades of dedicated sports reporting, but also for his dedication to his craft and his community throughout his career. 

In nearly 57 years, Graves has written countless words for The Star and quite possibly holds the record for the longest sentence ever published in this or any other weekly. 

“There are not many people like Jack at all in the world. And when it comes to his work at The Star, not only is he a great writer, he is a crucial person in the fabric of this community,” said Uri Berliner, a Star reporter from 1980 to 1987 who went on to be a longtime NPR journalist in Washington, D.C. “I still read him with great pleasure. . . . In every story, he’s paying attention, curious, no matter what the subject is. He’s all in, and it’s never wavered. There are not many people in our business like that who have bound themselves to a community and covered it with so much heart and joy.” 

“This place, I think, has always loved its eccentrics, of which I am one,” Graves said. 

Graves reporting at the 2018 Artists and Writers Softball Game; he's a Pittsburgh native. Durell Godfrey

He has interviewed every important sports figure in the community, and many who were just passing through. He followed with gusto the athletic careers of South Fork natives like the tennis great Paul Annacone and Ross Gload, a Springs School grad who went on to Major League Baseball and the World Series. His favorite sports story? Bridgehampton’s Killer Bees basketball team. “They’ve been wonderful to write about,” Graves said. 

He’s also interviewed the likes of Norman Mailer and Robert De Niro, who “talked my ear off. He’s known to be kind of laconic, but he talked and talked and talked. He had just begun his career.” 

The editor who hired him, the late Everett T. Rattray, “didn’t want me to interview the famous people so much. He wanted me to interview the Bonackers. But sometimes the locals, they just didn’t want to be interviewed.” 

Among the most memorable stories, early on, he said, were “Judy Hope’s almost unprecedented win as a Democratic town supervisor candidate” in the 1970s, at a time when the town was and long had been solidly Republican. His favorite headline of all time: “Nude Was Lewd, Rude: Frood,” on a Sept. 30, 1973, story about the arrest of two men playing frisbee in the buff at Indian Wells Beach and their subsequent court appearance before Justice Sheppard Frood. 

A graduate of Yale University, before coming to The Star he worked as a copy boy for The New York Times. “A copy boy does what everybody wants them to do,” he said Friday in the office he shares with his dog, O’en. “You’re a gofer, basically.” 

He moved on from The Times to Long Island Press’s Riverhead office, where he worked under Art Penny, turning out “half a dozen stories a day.” When he went for an interview at The Star, after learning that its only full-time reporter had just died in a car accident, he recalls Ev Rattray saying to him as he reviewed his clips, “ ‘It’s not so much the quality that impresses me, but the quantity.’ “ 

He was immediately assigned to almost every news beat and told he would write the column, “Point of View,” 

which he’s done ever since, with only a brief break during the pandemic. A selection of the columns has been published in the book “Essays From Eden.” 

“I’ve been far freer at The Star than I ever would have been at a daily, and even though Ev used to say writing a column was tantamount to an indeterminate prison sentence, I like that I’ve been afforded that intellectual freedom.” 

Irene Silverman came on the year after Graves, but only for the summers at first. She continues to work for The Star as its editor at large. “I have never seen Jack when he was not content in his job and looking forward to his next game,” she said. 

The two remembered being left to mind the newspaper in June 1974 while Ev and Helen Rattray, who rarely vacationed, were out of town. The week they were gone, the west wing of the Maidstone Club burned down and the Cedar Point Lighthouse was gutted by fire. 

Readers of his Point of View column already know that Graves's wife, Mary, is both the love of his life and his muse. Durell Godfrey

Readers of his column already know that Graves met his future wife, Mary Kernell, at The Star (in 1984), and that he is as head over heels for her now as he ever was. They will also know his keen sense of humor and willingness to be the butt of his own jokes. He takes pleasure in things both ridiculous and sublime. 

“As I have said, life is too serious to be taken too seriously,” Graves said, acknowledging that someone else may have said that first. 

A self-described ham, he did his fair share of community theater here, including one memorable 1973 production at Guild Hall, “Five Characters in Search of an Editor.” It involved dramatic readings of excerpts from The Star’s Letters to the Editor pages, with music by Wilson Stone. Peter and Virginia Turgeon directed. 

“Everybody was assigned 20 years, and we had a little song.” Graves still has the script and read from it as we talked on Friday. “The big dispute, it wasn’t the likelihood of nuclear war, it was the roses at the railroad station.” 

“I always appreciated Jack’s very wry humor,” Silverman said. “Underneath it, he is a philosopher king. . . . And he doesn’t mind telling you about it.” 

When he's not covering a game, a match, or a race, Jack Graves, The Star's sports editor, can often be found reading in the office he shares with his dog, O'en. Carissa Katz

Case in point: When asked to pose for a picture in his office on Tuesday, he grabbed a weather-beaten paperback copy of Michel de Montaigne’s complete essays from a shelf of similar Penguin Classics alongside The New Oxford Annotated Bible, three books on Emily Dickinson, and two on the Greek Myths. “I’ve spent the last 20 or 30 years reading the books I should have read in college,” he said. 

He has an uncanny memory for details, names, and dates. While he eschews the cellphone and curses constantly at his laptop, he can within minutes put his hand on most any story he’s written in the past 20 years amid the folded, dated stacks of clipped sports pages in what he calls his “piling system.” 

“My battle against entropy is on the winning side,” he remarked. 

“I learned a lot from Jack,” Berliner said. “He can be playful, he can be serious. He’s also such a gracious person. He has a kind way of approaching people.” 

Graves will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Jennifer McLogan of CBS-TV, Jim Klurfeld, formerly of Newsday, and the late Pat Cowles, a longtime owner of The Three Village Herald and former owner of The Sag Harbor Express, The Riverhead NewsReview, and the Shelter Island Reporter. The press club’s media awards banquet will be held next Thursday at 6 p.m. at Fox Hollow in Woodbury. Tickets, which start at $125 for those who are not members of the association, can be bought at 

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