Ian “Mighty” Graham: 1931-2020

Ian H. “Mighty” Graham loved to tell visitors the story. In 1949 when Blair was on the verge of scoring the winning points in the annual football game, Graham blocked a game-changing kick “at just the right time.” 

It was all about timing, he said.
Similarly, when the New York City real estate industry had a need for specialized insurance, Graham timed it just right to offer an insurance solution that catapulted him into an industry leader.

Graham, among Peddie’s top donors, credited teachers and mentors at Peddie for putting him on a path to a successful career. And it inspired him to want bright futures for all of Peddie’s students. Through a combination of gifts to Peddie during his lifetime, Graham was able to time his planned giving over several years so the school could improve its athletics programs and facilities. Those planned gifts have given Peddie first-class athletics facilities that are among the best in the nation.

Graham and his wife, Ellen at the dedication of the Ian H. Graham '50 Athletic Center.

Dedicated in 2010, the Ian H. Graham ’50 Athletic Center was upgraded in 2019 with two new wooden basketball courts and resurfaced indoor track with funds from Graham’s gift. Graham said his generosity to Peddie stemmed from a sense of gratitude for the school and the teachers and mentors who helped him both when he was at Peddie and beyond.

The son of Scottish immigrants, Graham said his parents were not well-versed in the American education system and enrolled him in a local Catholic school in Northern New Jersey well ahead of the age most students begin school. When he found himself already graduated high school at age 16 – having already served as the captain of the local school’s football team – his parents looked for a solution for him rather than sending him off to college at such an early age.

A family friend told his father about a wonderful boarding school he had attended in Hightstown, and Graham enrolled. He studied and played football at Peddie for two years before securing a scholarship to Rutgers University. Once at Rutgers, he admitted, he “discovered beer and darts” and while he played three years of football for the Scarlet Knights, he wasn’t able to play in his senior year due to his grades.
After graduating from Rutgers, he found himself painting houses in Cape Cod and then in Fort Lauderdale. Again, Peddie mentors stepped in. Don Rich ’32, a faculty member during Graham’s time at Peddie, ordered him to return from Florida and secured him a job with the American Carpet Institute, a trade association of carpet manufacturers.

After gaining experience in industry associations, Graham entered the insurance business in the 1970s just as New York City was seeing a slew of buildings converted into condos and co-ops. Again, good timing.

Graham deftly identified the legal liability that the director of such condo and co-op boards could face without insurance and began selling Directors and Officers Liability Insurance to condo and co-op boards. “About 70 percent of co-ops came through my office. I created an industry and then expanded to boards of cemeteries, yacht clubs and others,” he said.

Graham sold his private insurance company to Aon Corporation in 1999.

Graham with Former Head of School John Green

Throughout his successful career and in retirement, Graham remained loyal to Peddie through service and numerous generous gifts.

“I want Peddie to have the best facilities,” he said in 2019. “When I was there, we had a bathtub as a pool.”

Graham’s lasting legacy began when he was a student at Peddie for two years. While living in Wilson Hall and then Octagon House, he was both the football captain and the president of the class. He was secretary of the Gold Key Society and a prefect in his dorm. A scholarship student who supplemented his tuition by serving in the dining hall, he lit up with pride when he recalled that he was promoted to student manager of the dining hall.

“Prior to going to Peddie I was a 16-year-old with no future and no money. Peddie changed my life 100%,” he said.