by Randy Glucksman
Gary Grahl, the ERA’s longtime inspector of elections, died on February 5, 2021 at the age of 85. He had been hospitalized for several weeks.
Gary was born in the Bronx on October 28, 1935 and attended some of the same schools that I did, Public School 28 and Junior High School 117. Despite our age difference, we had some of the same teachers. Gary graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and the City College of New York, where he earned his bachelor and master’s degrees. Gary made his career as a New York City junior and intermediate school teacher and was very well thought of by his co-workers and students. I learned this by attending some of his field trips and speaking with other attendees.
Gary and I first met in the early spring of 1965 when I appeared before the then-required ERA interview committee prior to being accepted as a member. Gary (ERA #2823) was one of the interviewers on the commmittee, as were Roger Arcara, Allan Hannock and Hal Spielman, all members that I would later count as friends. When I returned home after the interview, I mentioned Gary’s name to my parents who confirmed, “Of course we know him, and his family.”
My father had owned a five-and-ten-cent store in the Mt. Hope section of the Bronx during the 1940s and 1950s where Gary’s family and we lived. My dad was a stamp collector and also sold stamps in his store. Gary was a customer and told me that he still had those stamps. On occasion he kidded that he knew my parents longer than I did, which was actually true. Gary enjoyed telling me interesting stories about my dad and their conversations, ones I had never heard.
Gary had been a close friend since that time, later attending each other’s family life cycle events, the joyous ones and also the sad ones. We were groomsmen at each other’s weddings and spoke on the phone frequently. Of course, we also railfanned.
In my early days as an ERA member, my interest in electric transit was limited to New York City. So when Gary invited me to join him and some friends on a day trip to Philadelphia, it sounded too exciting to pass up. Trips to other great places followed, expanding the scope of my rail knowledge. Gary was a great teacher, and not just of school children!
Being interested in buses was not popular with ERA members back then. Unpleasant sounds would be heard from some slideshow attendees if a picture showing a bus, or worse, a bus passing a trolley, managed to sneak into a program. Nonetheless, in 1982 Gary and several friends founded the Metropolitan New York Bus Association. MNYBA organizes several bus trips each year during the spring, summer and fall to visit local and regional bus properties. Each summer there would be a multi-day trip to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Toronto or Montreal (among other places), and these trips were well attended. Very often there are even opportunities to do some railfanning.
I always enjoyed the MNYBA trips that I took with Gary. Per his plan, attendees boarded the bus based on the order Gary received their checks, thus securing their “favorite” seats; these were theirs for the remainder of the trip. True to his always being a teacher, on these trips Gary had a whistle and instructed the attendees that three toots meant “Get back on the bus!”
Many members do not know that Gary was also a vexillologist, a person who studies flags. In fact, along with his friend the late Whitney Smith, he co-founded the North American Vexillological Association and designed flags for several countries. Together they also co-wrote several books about the history of flags.
For all the years that I knew Gary, he had been a member of a choir and an active member of the Lutheran church that he attended. He was a member of the Bronx County Chorus and regularly attended church at the First Lutheran Church of Throggs Neck. He was also president of his co-op board for more than 40 years.
It goes without saying that Gary will be missed by the ERA. He served as the inspector of elections for many years, and his Super 8 movie nights each November became an annual tradition enjoyed by all.
Gary is survived by two sons, Gregory and Andrew (program chair of the ERA); a daughter, Gloria; and a granddaughter, Julia. His wife, Valerie, died in 2010. A memorial service will be held at the First Lutheran Church of Throggs Neck when the pandemic improves. All ERA members and friends will be welcome.