FALMOUTH – “Children still want to write, if we let them.”

His belief in those words, which he wrote in a preface to one of his books, explained why his work may have revolutionized writing instruction and influenced hundreds if not thousands of teachers and students during his lifetime.

Donald Hiller Graves, 80, of Falmouth died Tuesday at Sedgewood Commons.

A longtime resident of Jackson and Durham, N.H., Mr. Graves moved to Falmouth in 2008. Several of his children live in the Greater Portland area.

“He was a prolific writer. We could hear him in his study cranking away on his typewriter keys,” said a daughter, Laura Graves of Portland.

Mr. Graves published 26 books in 25 years; that included not only professional textbooks, but also a book of poetry called “Baseball, Snakes, and Summer Squash” that he dedicated to his eight grandchildren.


His wife, Betty Graves of Falmouth, said her husband liked to say that you can revise your writing forever, but at some point you have to declare it done, which led to one of his mottos: “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

Mr. Graves was born in Fall River, Mass., the son of a school principal and a nurse.

He met his future wife in the early 1950s while both of them worked in the cafeteria at Bates College in Lewiston. They were married in 1954.

After serving in the Coast Guard, teaching elementary school and working as a school principal, Mr. Graves obtained his Masters in Education from Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts.

He began a new career in educational ministry at the Hamburg Presbyterian Church in New York. In 1973, he earned his doctorate in education from the University of Buffalo. His writing career took off after that.

In 1976, he established the Writing Process Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, where he taught until his retirement in 1992. In 1983, he published his first book, “Writing: Teachers & Children at Work.”


“What made the book sell was him. He became the speaker everyone wanted to see,” said a daughter, Alyce Graves of South Portland.

His publisher — Heinemann Publishing of Portsmouth, N.H. — published his 26 books. In 2003, Heinemann published the 20th anniversary edition of “Writing: Teachers & Children at Work.”

“Filled with inspiring, straightforward prose and backed by extensive classroom research, ‘Writing’ not only launched an education revolution, it also began a 20-year mentorship between Graves and hundreds of thousands of teachers looking for ways to improve their practice and their students’ education,” Heinemann wrote on its website.

“His work was revolutionary in the area of writing in elementary education,” added his daughter Laura, who teaches at Reiche Elementary School in Portland. “He was known internationally.”

Alyce Graves said her father was a dynamic speaker who spoke at educational conferences all over the world, including Sweden, New Zealand and Australia.

After he retired, Mr. Graves and his wife traveled extensively. In 2008, they took a cruise to France on the Queen Mary 2.


His wife said they especially enjoyed bicycling during their European vacations.

On one trip, they traveled by boat along the Adriatic Sea, spending their time on land bicycling. They bicycled around Sicily in 2006 and bicycled from Berlin to Prague on another trip.

To get in shape, the couple would ride in Bear Notch along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway.

“He was a very active and a very passionate man,” his daughter Alyce said.

The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Telling Room in Portland.

The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers, according to its website.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:



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