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COLUMN: Pictou County singer organizing fundraising concert

Sam Graham, Westville’s superintendent of public works, practices a Pat Boone tune for the Warm Hearts Gospel Concert Sunday, April 23, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Westville at 2 p.m. The concert is a fundraiser for a refugee family waiting to come to Pictou County. (Rosalie MacEachern photo)
Sam Graham, Westville’s superintendent of public works, practices a Pat Boone tune for the Warm Hearts Gospel Concert Sunday, April 23, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Westville at 2 p.m. The concert is a fundraiser for a refugee family waiting to come to Pictou County. (Rosalie MacEachern photo)

Oh Lord, it is pothole season again, but for Westville’s public works superintendent Sam Graham, it is gospel singing season, too.

Graham is organizing an April 23 concert to raise funds for a refugee family the Warm Hearts group is sponsoring.

After a winter flu season break, he is also getting back to spending his Thursday evenings singing at various seniors homes in the county.

“I love the music and the message,” says Graham who, not surprisingly given his stature, has a commanding voice.

Raised in Dundalk, Ont., he liked to sing from an early age, but never had a singing or guitar lesson. His mother played music for the United Church and he remembers his grandmother taking the family to Sunday services.

“I’m the youngest of six, five of them boys. I don’t remember too much music around the house, but it is likely my mother didn’t have much time to play. I wasn’t that interested in church and it was country music that first attracted me.”

He hung out with friends who had a country band, but only remembers singing once in public before he turned to gospel.

“I was working construction and went out to the bar for a few pops with the crew. I won us a free pitcher of beer for singing a Dwight Yoakam song,” he recalled.

Eleven years ago, Graham and his wife, Kathy, who is from New Glasgow, were living in Dundalk where he was employed by the town’s public works department. They were enjoying life until the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“She had a Christian surgeon, a very gentle, compassionate man, and he promised to pray for her. His wife worked in the office and she also promised to pray.”

Graham remembers his wife saying the diagnosis must be pretty bad when the doctor and his staff are offering prayers.

“The prognosis wasn’t good. We both had a faith but were not active in any church. I was a three-times-a-year Christian – Easter, Christmas and Mother’s Day.”

While they were still reeling from the diagnosis, a co-worker’s wife sent a card saying her church group would also pray for his wife.

“I went to church the next Sunday to thank them for their kindness and there was a woman who belted out an old gospel song and it really spoke to me. She invited me to join her group and it seemed to be something I needed just then.”

Throughout the illness and recovery, Graham and his wife were on a spiritual journey. They were baptized on Easter Sunday 10 years ago.

“I guess you could say we started to absorb the message of gospel music. We’d heard it before but it didn’t really touch us until we needed it.”

Soon after the couple was baptized, a Mennonite co-worker asked Graham to join a local choir.

“I’d asked him lots of times before to let me come along but he never did. I always joked that he wouldn’t take a chance on me until I was baptized but I enjoyed the group. They were mostly older guys and they let me sing when they needed a break.”

After Graham’s wife fully recovered, they decided to move back to her home to be closer to her family.  

“I figured I’d find a job somewhere and I did. Early in 2011, Westville was looking for a public works manager and I got the job, same work I was doing in Ontario. You might call that coincidence but I don’t.”

Graham and his wife joined St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Westville and when the late Jessie Smith of Trenton heard him playing, she decided his talent needed sharing.    

“She arranged for me to visit the Oddfellows home in Pictou because she thought it would be good for the folks there. I was amazed to see how much music meant to them. I could see songs like The Old Rugged Cross and How Great Thou Art actually comforting people and I’m so happy to be able to spread the message through music.”

Smith’s daughter-in-law, Allison, put him in touch with other nursing homes and he and his wife began visiting on a regular basis.

“My wife will just sit with someone, maybe hold someone’s hand or just keep them company and I share my heart and my music. After what we’ve been through, we’ll be grateful if we get to be seniors some day.”

A gospel concert struck Graham as something he could easily pull together and local singers, including Brian and Brenda Bowden, Diane McNeil and the Master’s Hand Singers, were quick to pitch in.

“We’ve also got Terri MacDonald and Lisa Hallet coming from Guysborough and we’ll have Gordon Anderson and Jean MacLean, too, so it should be a good afternoon of singing.”

 

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at r.maceachern@ns.sympatico.ca

 

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