Gerri Graves, 66, of Philadelphia, a community advocate in her neighborhood and a longtime employee at the Internal Revenue Service, died Tuesday, Jan. 26, of a stroke at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Ms. Graves made it a priority to help when her South Philadelphia and then Grays Ferry neighborhoods needed it. She was part of food distribution programs, voter registration drives, and practically any civic endeavor that needed dedicated volunteers.
“She would never let you down,” said her son Andre Graves. “She gave of her whole self. She was independent. She accepted you like you were. She said, ‘Always be yourself.’ We respected her for that.”
Upon her death, State Rep. Jordan A. Harris tweeted a photo of himself and Ms. Graves, writing that she was a “lover of her neighborhood. I can still hear Ms. Gerri’s voice as we see each other on the block. ‘Hey, State Rep.’ I will seriously miss that.”
Perhaps most dear to Ms. Graves’ heart was the 2011 effort to keep Edwin M. Stanton School open when it faced closure by the School District. Later, over the last few years, Ms. Graves worked as a crossing guard just outside Stanton, at 17th and Christian Streets.
Ms. Graves became involved with the effort to keep Stanton open largely because her grandsons, Nagee and Nyree Graves, whom she called her “$6 million babies,” attended classes there. The elementary school was facing closure due to budget cuts in the district, and Ms. Graves joined with other advocates — the Supporters of Stanton, they called themselves — to successfully lobby the district to keep the school open.
In doing so, Ms. Graves joined with other supporters every Sunday night to go over plans and strategy.
“She poured herself into every effort she undertook,” said Vicki Ellis, her friend, neighbor, and fellow community activist, who often hosted those Sunday night gatherings. “She was present in every aspect of life.”
Born May 11, 1954, Geraldine Graves grew up in South Philadelphia and graduated from South Philadelphia High School. She liked to dance as a youth and told stories of attending James Brown concerts. She went on to work at the Philadelphia office of the IRS for 34 years.
She never married but had three children, Curtis, Andre, and Tamia. Curtis died earlier.
“She was a great mother, a happy person, and she enjoyed life to the fullest,” her daughter, Tamia Ford, said.
“I was rebellious as a teenager,” Andre Graves said. “But she brought me back and never gave up on me. Even when she was down, she always managed to find the light.”
Ms. Graves liked to travel and listen to the music of John Legend. She visited, among other places, New Orleans and Barbados, and she liked the casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Most of all, her son said, she liked social and political challenges to face down.
“Everyone felt like they were being grandmothered by her,” Ellis said. “She was vital and impactful in a humorous way. She was energized by things. She was able to burn the candle at both ends and still have something left.”
“All she wanted to do was help people,” said her daughter. “She was a people person.”
In addition to her children and grandsons, Ms. Graves is survived by seven grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, a brother and sister, and other relatives.
Services were Feb. 8.