By MEG ULRICH
For the Express

Per my editor, I was charged with conducting an interview with the Honorable John Graham, an especially delightful Town of Webb Justice. I just call him Judge Jack, but I wouldn’t recommend trying that out when he’s acting in official capacity.
She, my illustrious and talented editor, thought that a humorous one-on-one was in order since Judge Graham has been named the Grand Marshall of Old Forge’s St. Paddy’s Day Parade. I agreed and set a time to have a sit-down with Judge Jack because he is a pretty entertaining guy and I find him delightful. He also has good stories, but I digress.
So I went over to the court building, which is always a good trip if I haven’t been summoned there. Now you have to understand that I think I’m pretty tricky while getting a good story; I fancy myself a decent investigator of facts most days.
I am here to tell you that I am no match for Jack Graham. Nope. Not on my best, most tricky, fact-finding day.
In my defense, the man served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam for two years, as a police patrolman in both Inlet and Webb and then spent decades with the New York State Police. He retired as a senior investigator in 2008. Now he’s a judge. There’s kinda no trickin’ him. It’s a lost cause to try to be sneaky.
So I thought I’d get a quick few answers out of him and be on my way but, alas, this was not the case. I came away from our chat prepped to write a story that had little to do with the Grand Marshall of the parade and everything to do with our local first responders, volunteer fire service and Believe 271.
Anyway, Jack Graham agreed to be the Grand Marshall because of something very close to his heart; the parade will honor first responders and he will march alongside 25 of his fellow, local firefighters Old Forge Fire and EMS personnel. The green sweatshirts they will don as they march are a nod and tribute to Believe 271, a not-for-profit organization that raises funds to assist fire fighters with cancer. Cancer occurrences in fire fighters has reached a disturbing 63 percent and Believe 271 Fund helps to offset expenses incurred by them during medical treatment and recovery. It is named for former Whitesboro Chief and Oneida County Deputy Fire Coordinator “271”, Brian McQueen. His cancer diagnosis and treatment inspired fellow firefighters to offer assistance and, though McQueen didn’t need financial assistance, he knew that many others did and would.
Believe 271 was born from the desire to help fellow firefighters and their families. The fund has aided three firefighters in our local area to date.
“It’s a brotherhood, a family. It’s not about me; I will represent the Fire Department and Ambulance Corps, who dedicate themselves to the community and who spend a lot of time training to be able to do so. It’s nice for us to be recognized as a unit,” says Graham.
“It’s an honor to be asked to represent these men and women,” he says.
And, if anyone happened to notice, those men and women were out in the pond at the lakefront recently learning how to save lives. I was turning up the heat in my office and drinking hot beverages; they were out on the ice and in the water so they will be prepared should the need for an ice and water rescue arise. They do a lot of training, along with going out on all of the regular calls they receive. Did I mention that it’s a volunteer thing? They do not have to get up at four in the morning to go help a stranger when it’s negative 30 degrees. But they doit and they do it every single time.
Graham began as a volunteer in Whitesboro in 1966, joined in Old Forge in 1974, and continued to volunteer until he joined the NYSP, which did not allow members to be volunteer fire fighters until the late nineties. Graham rejoined OFFD in 2000 and has been an active member since, serving as a captain and as president, as well as being an ambulance driver.
I can tell you a few things about Judge Jack; he’s one of those salt-of-the-earth people that believes in doing the right thing even if nobody is watching. He’s an all-around good guy that gives a lot back to his community, though it’s sometimes hard to catch him in action – he’s a bit elusive. He loves his family and takes good care of his friends. He’s been one of the people that is first on the scene for over 50 years and he’s still at it. And if you look up ’stand up guy,’ his photo may well be right there with the definition.
Our local firefighters will join 271 to march in the Utica parade at 10 a.m. this Saturday, March 11. It begins at the Roundabout on Genesee Street and ends at Columbia Street. Graham, as Grand Marshall, and his fellow department members will take to the streets in Old Forge at 4 p.m. on March 17.