Jill Whitman Graham
June 18, 1942 – January 21, 2020
Jill Whitman Graham was an incandescent force of nature; her unmistakable laugh and prolific wit often entered the room before she did. When she arrived in Austin in the 70’s from the Northeast, she was mystified by aspects of Texas culture. However, 50 years later, Jill has left her own imprint on Austin life. She shaped it into her own expression of her inimitable style and values. Once, when a friend lamented, “I cannot find a job,” Jill was incredulous, saying “If you can’t find a job, create one.” Over the years, such “creations” became Jill’s signature in her summer camps for children, her well-known tutoring service, her entry into the field of learning disabilities, her mark on the high school classroom, and her special regard for all living creatures, leading her to create her own “zoo” in both her classroom and her home.
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio the only child of George Whitman and Evelyn “Petie” Busch Whitman, Jill attended the Doherty School from grades one through twelve. She graduated in 1960, fluent in French, bound for Vassar College. Although she wanted to be pre-med when she arrived in Poughkeepsie, her tender heart could not move past the dissection of a cat. Instead, she poured her lifelong intellectual curiosity into courses such as drama, literature, and Italian. Her senior year she went on a blind date with dashing, tall Texan, Malcolm Smith Graham that forever changed the course of her life. Shortly after Jill’s college graduation, Malcolm and Jill were married in July 1964. They lived briefly in Vermont before moving to Philadelphia where Malcolm earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Finance. Their four years in Philadelphia saw two additional milestones: the birth of their son Stephen Thomas Graham, and Jill’s entry into the Catholic high school classroom of the Little Flower School for Girls, where she taught English and where she was mentored by her lifelong friend and surrogate mother, Sister Regina. Teaching in a Catholic school was to become Jill’s vocation.
In 1971, the little family moved to Austin, where Malcolm joined an accounting firm in his hometown. In 1976, Jill and Malcolm moved into the family homestead (where they would happily remain for over four decades) which had been one of the original structures in Tarrytown. They brought baby daughter Katharine “Kaitlin” home to Galewood Place where they raised Stephen and Kaitlin and too many cats and dogs to name by name. Originally partial to cocker spaniels, soon they were adopting whoever wandered by and needed a home.
Over the years, their house on Galewood became “headquarters” for all. The door was never locked. It was a way station for people who needed a pit stop: to visit, to drink coffee, to learn to read, to learn how to write a research paper or anything else. Jill was tireless in every endeavor.
She received her Masters in Special Education from the University of Texas at Austin and successfully ran her legendary tutoring business before dedicating fifteen years to St. Michael’s Catholic Academy. Jill was not just the beloved freshman biology teacher at St. Michael’s; she was an institution and a rite of passage. Jill never met a snake, lizard, or freshman she didn’t immediately and unconditionally love. Her diminutive figure (but larger than life personality) – roaming the halls carrying a hedgehog or toad – was a familiar sight to all and a disconcerting surprise to many a visitor.
Jill’s singular brand of joie de vivre will be sorely missed by her former students and colleagues, her regular Tarrytown haunts where everyone knew her name, her incredible circle of friends both from her childhood in Cincinnati and Austin friends of five decades, and of course her dearly loved family.
Malcolm, Jill’s beloved husband of nearly 50 years, died in 2014. Jill is survived by her son Stephen Graham, daughter-in-law Andrea Schokker and grandson Aidan Lucas; daughter Kaitlin Graham Guthrow, son-in-law Andrew and grandchildren Sophia Elizabeth and Matthew Stuart; sister-in-law Nancy Graham Oelz and husband Dave; niece Emily Oelz Belden and husband Garrett; two first cousins who were raised with Jill like siblings, Alison Beall and Christopher “Kit” Beall and wife Sheila; Lucas the cat and Ears the dog.
Jill was loved and supported by so many. Four families embraced Jill as if she had been blood kin, especially after Malcolm passed away including the Staytons, the Dolces, the Cowdens and the Finleys. Mark Finley’s stalwart support in ensuring Jill was able to attend Mass each Saturday meant the world to her.
The family would like to express their thanks to Thomas Hernandez, Mary Weed and Patience Buchanan for going above and beyond in their caregiving support.
No flowers, please. You know what Jill would have thought of that. Every plant or flower that was ever delivered to her home never lasted long. In lieu of gifts, please consider making a gift in her memory to Austin Pets Alive! www.austinpetsalive.org where Jill adopted beloved Ears or to the Alumni Scholarship Fund at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy. St. Michael’s is grateful to Jill Graham for inspiring generations of students. Memorial gifts can be made in Jill’s honor by visiting www.SMCA.com/alumnigiving or by contacting the Development Office at 512-225-0838 or email@example.com. All Jill Graham memorial gift donors will be recognized in the school’s annual report.
A memorial celebration of Jill’s extraordinary life will be held on Saturday, March 28, at 10:00 am at St. Austin Catholic Parish located at 2026 Guadalupe Street in Austin with a reception immediately to follow at the church.
We all have our favorite stories of Jill. Please share those in the online guest book at www.wcfish.com. or bring a favorite memory to the reception where it will be included in a memorial scrapbook.
No services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Jill Whitman Graham
February 13, 2020
Mrs Graham's class is still the class I remember most from my Freshman year. As someone who went full liberal arts, emphasis on the arts. I can truly say she made learning fun and her many animals were always a joy to hangout with!
February 11, 2020
Mrs. Graham was my daughter, Taylor Woolley, and son, Trent Woolley's favorite biology teacher! She was not only my children's teacher, she was a colleague from St. Michael's! For many years, Mrs. Graham would pack up her precious animals and cart them to our Kindergarten classroom. With the help of her chosen students, she would passionately talk about each animal and allow the children to pet and enjoy each one. This was the highlight of our year! Thank you Mrs. Graham for your kindness and love for animals! You will be missed but never forgotten!
Ms. Oggero and all the past Kindergarten Students
February 11, 2020
Parent Class of 2014 SMCA
We just moved to Austin 2010 and my daughter entered Freshman Biology . The stories she shared of animals in the classroom ; in Jills hair; her hand reaching into Biology animals and animals pooping in the sink were eye opening . It always made me think of Miss Frizzle from Magic School Bus . Active in the Parents Club , many a time Jill would just be wandering the halls and popping in checking in on Parents Club and our snacks . I came to see her as an institution of the school with Mr. Wag and Mrs. Prior .and Principal Sharon .
She truly loved teenagers .
February 8, 2020
So many Jill stories … which ones to share? Loved the Graham home full of educational materials, kids and all kinds of animals … Malcolm once remarked “we don’t even bother to count the cats”. Visitors knew to check any chair before sitting down or risk disturbing a napping feline. One of the semi-ferals lived behind the garage in Malcolm’s boat. And anything that looked like a rock in the backyard was most likely an armadillo or a tortoise.
On a recent visit to Jill’s Placid Place home I spied a HUGE shiny cockroach on the bathroom wall – extremely alert and quite healthy, waving it’s long antennae. I love animals too, but must admit, I’m squeamish when it comes to cockroaches. So I reported the giant bug to Jill, who calmly approached it, and deftly but gently scooped it up in her hands, and released it outside.
Jill truly loved, and was loved in return by, all creatures great and small
February 8, 2020
Jill was a true original. She was also an open book and loved sharing stories about her life and profession. I’ll never forget the story of the young student who disobeyed her warnings to not get the alligator out of the terrarium without her assistance. Fortunately, the student suffered a minor nip, but learned a big lesson about Jill’s admonitions.
She will live in my memories forever.