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Interview with Tom Graf, March 2, 2017

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:20 - Education / Job history

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Partial Transcript: Could you tell me a little bit about where you grew up and your family?

Segment Synopsis: Graf opens up the interview explaining how his personal disinterest in blue-collar work eventually led him to the decision to go to college. Graf recollects details from his first job as a P.E. instructor and his second job as a bond issuer at the Happy Hearts Special Education School in Ashtabula County, Ohio. Graf explains how his dislike of the cold weather in Ohio eventually led him to pursue a job in Atlanta, Georgia.

Keywords: Atlanta; Special Education; college; high school

00:06:46 - Working in Atlanta / Graf integrates Special Needs schools

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Partial Transcript: What did you inherit when you came here in '65 from Ohio?

Segment Synopsis: Graf explains his experiences working in Atlanta special need schools during the late 1960's after leaving Ohio. Graf recalls his role as head of the board for three special needs Altanta schools, and reflects on his decision to integrate two previously segregated schools in order to receive more government funding. Graf details the backlash from his supervisor who called Graf a "Yankee" and told him to go back to the north.

Keywords: Bobby Dodd; Dekalb County; Druid Hills; Fairhaven; desegregation; funding; merger

00:18:01 - The Bobby Dodd Workshop

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Partial Transcript: A while ago you mentioned that the workshop was called the Bobby Dodd Workshop, could you...

Segment Synopsis: Graf recalls his relationship with Bobby Dodd, the annual chairman of the Bobby Dodd Workshop (an institute devoted to the employment of the mentally disabled). Graf reminisces over the level of commitment Bobby Dodd displayed towards his cause. Graf details how Bobby Dodd introduced him to many powerful legislative figures, some of whom joined the board of Graf's organization, the Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities (AADD).

Keywords: Rich Foundation; Thomas Chatman; Tom Asher; fundraiser; legislation

00:25:14 - Building a board / Prevention initiatives

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Partial Transcript: Tom is the chair of the board of the Rich Foundation?

Segment Synopsis: Graf recalls how he transformed his organization's board to include people with diplomatic power with the help of Leadership Atlanta. Graf gives details into how he pressured Georgia Governor Joe Frank Harris into passing a metabolic disorder prevention bill, by releasing Gov. Harris' approval to the press before the final decision. Graf explains how AADD started the Atlanta Special Olympics.

Keywords: Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities; Chip Conrad; Frank Spence; Joe Frank Harris; King and Spalding Lawfirms; Leadership Atlanta; Metabolic Disorders; Special Olympics; Tom Asher; prevention

00:33:10 - Passing disability bills / Community Services Act

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Partial Transcript: So what are the consequences of having passed that bill?

Segment Synopsis: Graf explains how he enabled the passing of the Metabolic Screening Act, which was created for the purpose of preventing the development of metabolic disorders during pregnancy. Graf discusses his experiences passing additional acts, including the Community Services Act of 1972, which led to the development of community centers for those unable to work. Graf explains how he got inspiration for the development of community service centers from the service centers that he had visited in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Keywords: Community Services Act 1972; Denmark, Copenhagen; Emory Genetics Department; Intervention; Mandatory Education Act 1968; Metabolic Screening Acts; Metabolic disorders; Prevention; Rosalyn Carter; recreation programs

00:38:26 - Expanding influence / Passing Community Services Act

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Partial Transcript: So you said the money you were given from...

Segment Synopsis: Graf gives describes the bureaucratic process used for the passing of the Community Services Act. Graf gives recognition to Jack Blackstone, who helped grow Graf's organization to one-thousand members through the creation of state charters. Graf proceeds to list influential Georgian politicians and their role in AADD's function. Graf recollects how the organization ran TV and newspaper ads showing the conditions of disabled children in institutions, which inspired legislative action.

Keywords: Bobby Dodd; Bobby Rowan; Community Services Act; Jack Blackstone; Legislation; Webb Spratts; Zell Miller

00:44:36 - Mental institutions in the 1970's / Graf's relationship with Manuel Maloof

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Partial Transcript: Just for comparison's sake, talk to me about the venue that people lived in when you first came to Georgia?

Segment Synopsis: Graf gives insight into the condition of mental institutions of Georgia when he first came to the Atlanta area in the 1970's. He talks about the overcrowding of institutions as some institutions had up to ten thousand patients and people were often grouped together, regardless of background. Graf recounts how he worked to get the mental institutions closed due to their conditions. Graf explains his relationship with Manuael Maloof, a prominent Atlanta politician, who Graf describes as a father figure. Graf recalls Maloof's dedication towards Graf's organization, which Graf accredits to the fact that Maloof had a son who also had a mental disability.

Keywords: Augusta Georgia; Dunwoody, Georgia; Frank Spence; Georgia Retardation Center; Gracewood; Human Rights Committee; Manuel Maloof; Milledgeville; Shirley Miller; institution

00:55:21 - Paul Coverdell and the Criminal Justice Act

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Partial Transcript: My sense is that you've always had a real focus on building on...

Segment Synopsis: Graf explains the expansion of AADD (Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities) into the community. He recounts the passing of a bill known as the Criminal Justice Act, which was aimed at alleviating punishments for those in the justice system who were labeled mentally disabled. Graf explains how Paul Coverdell, a fellow lobbyist at time (later, U.S. Senator), managed to get the act passed. Graf reflects how the bill did not make the remarkable change he wanted due to the public's lack of concern.

Keywords: Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities (AADD); Criminal Justice Act; Lobbying; Paul Coverdell; community; education

01:03:41 - Making change / Growing up in a Catholic School

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Partial Transcript: Over your time doing this work, what do you think you've learned about working to make change?

Segment Synopsis: Graf reflects how people with political power are often needed in order to make changes in legislative policy. Graf explains how he believes making change in the world is more important than financial gain. Graf gives insight into the bullying he experienced growing up in a Catholic school with a Protestant father. Graf explains how Catholic school eventually led him to develop an obsession with grades and studying.

Keywords: Amy Paegent; Graduate school; High school; King & Spalding; Marta; Tom Asher

01:11:35 - Catholic school, cont. / Tommy Nobis

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Partial Transcript: That little kid on the other side of the room got helped too.

Segment Synopsis: Graf explains how his experience in Catholic school, specifically the unfair treatment of disabled children led him to become conscious to the treatment of those labeled mentally disabled. Graf reflects how his anger, which stemmed from the unfair treatment, was constructively used to help him achieve his goals, and eventually led him to become an activist . Graf reflects how Tommy Nobis, co-founder of the Tommy Nobis Center (a company focused on the employment of those with mental disabilities) contributed greatly to the development of AADD but recently suffered from dementia bought on from football.

Keywords: Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities; Catholic school; College; Down Syndrome; Tommy Nobis; Tommy Nobis Center

01:16:02 - Legacy

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Partial Transcript: What do you think your legacy is?

Segment Synopsis: Graf explains how he believes his legacy is his persistence and determination to his cause. Graf also mentions how Paul Coverdell, a politician who supported the AADD agenda as a member of the senate, helped with the expansion of the AADD.

Keywords: Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities