Kathleen Graham

June 8, 1927August 30, 2012
Obituary of Kathleen Graham
Pipe Major Kathleen Elsie "Nicholson" Graham June 8, 1927 - August 30, 2012 Pipe Major Kathleen Elsie "Nicholson" Graham completed her amazing life's journey Thursday August 30th, 2012 at 11:25 am at Long Beach Memorial Hospital in Long Beach, CA. She was the original Pipe Major and founder of the Nicholson Pipes and Drums that is based in Westminster, California. For the last 30 years she had dedicated her life to teaching the bagpipes and forming this award winning band to honor her father and family name. Kathleen was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, June 8, 1927 and was the first born of three sisters to Pipe Major Malcolm and Elsie Nicholson. She began highland dancing lessons at age 21/2. By the time she was 4 she was learning the bagpipes from her father, Malcolm Nicholson, who was a police sergeant and the Pipe Major of the Vancouver Police Pipe Band. By the time she was 5 she was acclaimed to be the youngest piper in Canada having won the silver cup from the Gaelic Society for her skill on the bagpipes. At that time she had already won 11 medals for highland dancing. Through her teen years she had won many aggregates at numerous piping competitions. One of the contests she competed at and won was highlighted by the 2 well known judges from Scotland, William Ross and John Burgess. Kathleen had not limited herself to piping and dancing. At age 12 she won a 5 year Art Scholarship given by the Vancouver school board. Then at age 17 she received a silver medal from the Toronto Conservatory Music in Ontario, Canada, for the highest marks for her singing exam. She won numerous prizes at Gaelic festivals for both Gaelic singing and recitation. Kathleen then joined the Vancouver Ladies Pipe Band in 1938 and then joined the Glengary Girls Pipe Band in 1942. During World War ll Kathleen and her sisters toured and performed at Canadian Military camps and USO shows. She also toured with the AB Marcus production company throughout the US and appeared on Broadway and New York television shows. She was also a dance instructor at Arthur Murray Studios in New York. One of her routines she actually played the pipes while highland dancing. She then married and moved from New York to Seattle Washington where she established a large highland dancing school and was part of the Seattle Highland Games Committee. While in Seattle she and her husband adopted her only son Malcolm and when he was 2 years old she divorced and then moved back to Vancouver, Canada and worked at the Vancouver Police Department. While working at the police department she opened and ran a successful music and dance school that focused on the highland arts, modern dance, and ballet. In 1966 Kathleen once again relocated with her son to Santa Monica, California. Her son acted as her sponsor and she became a naturalized US citizen and then she remarried shortly after that. Kathleen's varied work experience started with being an executive secretary, but she had an eye for decorating and earned an accredited Illuminating Engineering certificate from the University of British Columbia which lead her into a consulting job for an LA lighting company. She had designed numerous residential and commercial properties in LA, trail blazing the industry with the use of theatrical lighting in the commercial and residential markets. One notable design she was proud of was the Disneyland Hotel where she designed the lighting for the hotel lobby in the late 1960's. Finally, her versatility in the job market is capped off by her working for LAPD and Beverly Hills PD in the capacity as a cleric and woman's jailer. While moving from job to job and raising a son in Southern California she started teaching the bagpipes in Santa Monica, CA. One day she was approached by a couple of her adult students to start a band, which she initially declined as there was no capital available and she did not want the commitment of managing a band. She was ultimately convinced and formed the Nicholson Pipes and Drums in 1981 when the 2 students that approached her put up the seed money to start the band and her son Malcolm agreed to help with the drum section. Kathleen had taught many individuals and some were notable actors like Rick Jason from the 60's Classic TV Show COMBAT and David Huffman who appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie Fire Fox. She then moved to Garden Grove where she was a member of the Crystal Cathedral Choir and also continued to teach bagpipes. One of her bagpipe career highlights was when one of her adult students gave her a piping gig referral of a lifetime. Kathleen was asked to audition and got the final call to play Amazing Grace for Spock's funeral scene in the Star Trek movie classic The Wrath of Kahn. She did the recording at Paramount Studios with full live orchestra on the sound studio which was a thrill of a lifetime. Kathleen moved back to Vancouver in the mid 80's to care for her father until he passed away in the mid 90's and then she returned once again to Orange County to teach another generation of young and adult pipers. The Nicholson Pipe Band's longevity surprised her as she was very proud of all the accomplishments the band had made, from playing for the roll out of the Tiger Shark aircraft at Northrop,1984 LA Olympics, Inaugural festivities in OC for President Reagan, EXPO 86 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. As well as supporting Southern California law enforcement and all the Marines down at Camp Pendleton. Finally, the band was given the honor to be the official band of the Clan McNicol/ Nicholson. In 1996 she organized a band trip to go to the Isle of Skye to perform and participate at the dedication of the the clan Kirk'n (church). The band has produced 2 acclaimed CD's and will always be a positive living memorial for Kathleen as her former student, Pipe Major Robert Hackney and her son, Drum Sergeant Malcolm Willis will carry on this band's positive winning legacy. Kathleen is widowed and is survived by her son Malcolm B. Willis, daughter-in-law Irene G. Willis and her 2 grandchildren Alisha and Cristina and great grandchild Avery. Services and celebration of her life will be held Saturday, September 29th, 2012 at 2:30 PM at Westminster Memorial Park in Westminster, CA. You can go to: to leave written condolences for the family.

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