Friends and family stood outside Allen Graffam’s Topsham home Monday to play one last Taps for the longtime band director at Mt. Ararat High School, who died of cancer Saturday. He taught for 35 years at the school before retiring in 2018.

 

Longtime Mt. Ararat High School band director Allen Graffam walks with his marching band in the 2018 Brunswick Topsham Memorial Day shortly before retiring. Teri Schultz photo

TOPSHAM — The Mt. Ararat High School community is mourning the loss of its beloved and longtime band teacher Allen Graffam, who died at home from cancer early Saturday morning surrounded by family.

Graffam, 66, had taught at the high school for 35 years before retiring in 2018. He came to the school a decade after it opened and transformed the music program, which offered a wind ensemble and jazz band in addition to the concert band.

He started his career in 1975 teaching at Brunswick Junior High School and then served as the Brunswick High School band director for two years before moving to Mt. Ararat High School.

At Mt. Ararat he also coached softball, basketball and served as the National Honor Society advisor and coordinated graduation ceremonies.

Kristen Thomas, the school’s choral director, is a former student of Graffam. She created a Facebook page to send a little joy to Graffam after learning he entered hospice care on May 17. The page has taken on a life of its own, drawing thousands of messages and videos from former students who also put signs in his yard.

His sister, Andrea Graffam, lived with him the past seven months and read and played many of the messages for her brother. Then on Monday, many friends and former students lined up outside his Williams Drive home with their instruments and performed one final Taps.

“It has lifted everyone up,” Andrea Graffam said. Referring to the Mt. Ararat High School mascot: “He has been supported and lifted up on eagles’ wings.”

Many former students who have posted messages said they weren’t great musicians, but Graffam made them feel like they mattered.

“Al was a master teacher and what made him a master teacher was he knew how to work with every single kind of student,” said Leonard Krill, who taught English many years at Mt. Ararat before retiring with Graffam in 2018.

Graffam didn’t judge students, but they knew his expectations were high, said Krill.

“It was about taking a group of kids and moving that as far and as fast as he could so that they made something beautiful together, and then showed it to other people,” Krill said.

Margie Landis, a former band teacher for Maine School Administrative District 75, retired a year before Graffam. She said he was able to connect with students from all different backgrounds at the high school, which serves Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham. He took all those different threads and wove them together into one fabric.

“He shaped Mt. Ararat,” she said, “and that was a pretty hard thing to shape.”

A humble but dynamic man, Graffam was a talented musician who played trumpet professionally with the likes of the Portland Symphony and  Bangor Symphony and throughout New England with the Blue Hill Brass, according to his obituary.

He was playing with the Blue Hill Brass at his daughter’s wedding three years ago when he surprised everyone, went to the microphone, and sang “What A Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong who is one of his heroes.

“He had everyone in tears,” said Laura Waite, his former wife and close friend.

It was the song he was listening to the moment he died.

“I think one of the things our daughters realize through all this is he was still teaching us,” Waite said, “and he’ll continue to teach us.”

 

 

 

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