Between finance and philanthropy, Hugh Graham and his wife, Sandy, lead busy lives. The couple work together as mortgage agents, and both put in plenty of hours for their respective Rotary Clubs.
“Sandy used to be a banker. She took a buyout package, and decided to focus on mortgages. I had retired from Canadian Tire Financial Services in Welland. I told her that I would help her for two years to build up her mortgage business. Here we are, 22 years later, and we’re still at it,” he said with a laugh.
While Sandy has been a Welland Rotarian for 31 years, Hugh was invited to join the Fonthill Rotary Club in 2000, and is finishing up 23 years as a member. He was born in St. Mary’s, and moved from Stratford to Welland with his wife, before relocating to Fonthill about 20 years ago. He has held numerous positions with the Rotary organization, including president, secretary, assistant district governor, and member of various committees. Hugh was also honoured as a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary.
“My wife and I were presidents of our respective Rotary clubs during the pandemic. Neither one of us had an in-person meeting. Everything was done by Zoom. She did Tuesday noon hours in her office, and I did Wednesday mornings in my office. And we went through the whole year without meeting in person. It was a very different experience,” said Hugh.
This is Hugh’s 14th year of chairing the Rotary Auction, which involves seven regional clubs. This year’s auction, which has a target of $150,000, is going to be entirely online. Viewing of items commences November 15, and bids will be accepted from November 22 to December 2. No phone-in donations will be accepted in 2023, said Hugh.
The website is https://event.auctria.com/12d69d5d-14ea-496c-86a4-d517bce855f0.
When not writing mortgages or on Rotary business, Hugh likes to hit the links around Niagara.
“I really enjoy golf,” he said. “I’m not a member of any particular club. I just like to move around a bit. I organized our Rotary golf tournament at Lookout Point for about 15 years. We stopped doing that six years ago, and now we do a fall golf tournament at Riverview jointly with Welland Rotary, and raise about $14,000 for Niagara Children's Centre. But my main focus is the annual TV auction.”
'You feel it at Summerfest, and Thursday nights at the Peace Park summer concerts'
Hockey is another of his passions, a game he has been playing most of his life.
“I enjoy pick-up ice hockey in the wintertime,” he said. “I haven't played since before the pandemic, but I'm hoping to get back into it in a month or so at the MCC. I had a torn meniscus in my left knee, but my physiotherapist said that playing hockey should be okay. We'll see how that goes.”
His favorite NHL team?
“I guess it would be Toronto,” he said after some thought. “I wasn't a Toronto fan when I was growing up, because my favorite player was Bobby Orr, and he played for Boston. And my next favorite team was whoever was playing Montreal,” he said with a lauch. “When I take my youngest daughter to a game in Buffalo once a year, we usually cheer for the team that's visiting, just to see the fan reactions around us.”
Hugh is also involved with his church, Wesley United in Welland. “I’ve chaired the church council for a number of years. We're active in church-sponsored food drives and stuff like that,” he said.
Aside from his wonky knee, Hugh is in good health, despite a run-in with prostate cancer in 2012. Rather than endure chemo or radiation treatment, he had robotic-assisted surgery to remove the organ, and has been cancer-free ever since.
The Grahams have an adult son and two daughters, all three who attended French schools in Welland.
Despite Pelham’s soaring new-home construction, growing traffic woes, and other manifestations of urban growth, Hugh still feels the place has a small-town vibe that is highly appealing.
“You feel it at Summerfest, and Thursday nights at the Peace Park summer concerts,” he said. “The Meridian Community Centre was an expensive proposition for a municipality of only 18,000, but you only have to note the high usage — something like 600,000 visits last year — to see what a great resource it is for us.”
As empty-nesters, some would suggest that the Grahams don’t need their big family house any longer, and should cash-out and downsize.
“We built our house 33 years ago, with 72 feet of frontage and 210 feet of depth,” said Hugh. “We built a two-story, four bedroom model because of the three kids. But it would be hard to sell it right now in this market, and quite frankly, we like it so much, they're going to have to carry us out. We have no plans to move anywhere else.”