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Carl Frederick Graff, 74, parachutist who recorded 1,120 skydives with the Pelicans skydiving team

Carl Frederick Graff
Carl Frederick Graff

SHALLOTTE — Carl Frederick Graff, 74, died just after sunset Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, while his family held his hands at the peaceful SECU Hospice House of Brunswick County.

He was born July 20, 1944, in Washington, D.C., in the Georgetown neighborhood where his mother grew up. He was the second of her nine children. They lived in Greenbelt, Maryland, before moving to a farm in rural southern Maryland in 1961.

He graduated from Lackey High School in 1964 and held a number of jobs after that, none of which he loved more than being “Captain Fred” on the charter boats he ran out of Solomons Island, Maryland. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was an elite sport parachutist, jumping from 12,000 feet and landing on a target the size of a dinner plate. He recorded 1,120 skydives with the Pelicans skydiving team out of Ridgely, Maryland, and earned the nickname Fearless Freddie Giraffe. He became the 647th American to earn his Gold Wings from the United States Parachute Association, awarded to those with 1,000 jumps. Later in life, he reconnected with the Pelicans at an annual spring reunion, and they drank Black Label beers like old times.

On Dec. 30, 1978, he made the wisest decision of his life, marrying an elementary school teacher named Patrice Haines. They were inseparable for 40 years; she was his caretaker for much of the last eight. During one of his many hospital visits, doctors were forced to cut off his wedding ring; six hours before he died, she slipped it back onto his left ring finger and kissed his forehead.

He devoted his life to her and their two sons, Kenny and Michael, both of Charlotte, along with Michael’s wife, Laura (Houston). The boys’ first jobs were as first mates on his charter boat, and he startled several of their girlfriends by calling the work “mating.” When he took part in their career days, he gave out fishing lures. On Sept. 5, 1995, the day Cal Ripken tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record, he ordered a satellite dish to make sure the boys saw it. He treated his sons’ friends like they were his own and kept a running tab of everything Joey Klopfer and Cecil McPherson ate out of his fridge.

He loved garden tomatoes and warred with the squirrels who ate them first. He talked too loud at restaurants and often tried to convince waitresses to marry his sons. His favorite television show was the Family Feud, the Steve Harvey version only; favorite word was “hotchupretty,” his alternative to “wow,” and favorite activity was reading the obituary pages, “Hey, Fred.”

He was drawn to the people on the margins. When he coached his kids’ baseball teams, his favorite player was often the worst. He sat beside hospital beds of passing acquaintances, just to make sure they weren’t alone. Later in life, on his beloved electric scooter, he visited neighbors who didn’t know anyone else on the street.

He took senators and sports figures out on fishing trips, with the unspoken agreement that what happened on the boat, stayed on the boat. Except for this, about one former Washington Wizard: “That Calbert Cheaney didn’t catch any damn fish.”

He’s survived by his Yorkie, Nano. He was preceded in death by his favorite dog, Chessy, a 100-pound black lab mutt who snored beside him while he made sinkers.

Also preceding him in death were his mother, Mary Graff (Collins); George and Gertie Collins, the uncle and aunt who helped raise him and showed him how to be a good father; father, William; and brothers, Billy and George.

Surviving are six siblings, Johnny Graff of Indian Head, Maryland, Linda Millar, and her husband, Russell, of Hollywood, Maryland, Mary Graff Byers, and her husband, Ronald Washington, of La Plata, Maryland, Kathy Midgley, and her husband, Dennis, of Shallotte, Rita Fox, and her husband, Sean, of Ripley, Maryland, and Kenny Graff and his wife, Julie, of Chicamuxen, Maryland; and 23 nieces and nephews.

He didn’t want a formal funeral. Well-wishers are encouraged to follow his advice and “go get drunk and be somebody.” The family will have a small and informal gathering from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 26, at the home in Shallotte. His remains will go to eternal rest in the Chesapeake Bay, after another small and informal gathering on a to-be-determined date just before rockfish season in April.

The family would like to thank the many nurses and aides who helped along the way, in particular Hospice CNA Courtney Grant, who over his final 16 months gave him constant companionship and care and laughed at even his worst jokes.

Share online condolences with the family at White Funeral and Cremation Service.

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