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WWII vet and wife die 9 days apart

A folded flag sits on a casket during ceremonial funeral training at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 22, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

She left this life, and then nine days later, he did, too.

A 75-year marriage that began as a courtship through letters sent overseas during World War II. Together for 75 years, apart for a week and two days, and then together again.

Jean Alvord, 96, died Feb. 20, and Graham Alvord, 103, died Feb. 29.

Two lives defined by stunning talents, immense service and dedication to family, their children say.

A joint memorial service for the husband and wife is scheduled for Saturday, March 14 at 1 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Kittery Point.

Chris Alvord, one of the couple’s six children, called his parents’ longevity “spectacular.” A year-and-a-half ago, Graham was given three days to live at York Hospital. Just six weeks ago, he had a heart attack and recovered. He faced death numerous times, but wouldn’t let go until his wife met her time.

“My dad would have passed a long time ago,” said Chris. “He told me he was OK with passing, but not when Jean was alive.”

Son Chip Alvord added, “His goal in life was to protect her and he did. When he didn’t need to do that anymore, he let go and has joined her. A testament to the power of love and his faith.”

The couple moved to Kittery Point shortly after Graham’s return from war in 1945. He fought in the Navy, serving as executive officer of an LST, or landing ship tank, on D-Day. His was the first transport ship to land on Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion, according to his obituary.

Chris said his parents met through their social circles, but “fell in love by letter, and they both wrote beautifully.”

“They were very, very talented,” Chris said. “Even gifted. My dad was admitted to Harvard two years before normal time, because he was so friggin’ gifted. My mother won the poetry prize at Smith College and was the New England 12 and under tennis champion.”

Per his obituary, Graham worked at Portsmouth High School as a teacher and guidance counselor where he also ran the theater department for many years, until his retirement at 62. He later served as assistant minister at Portsmouth’s North Church, followed by a lifetime of volunteer service, including pastoral counseling, funerals, marriages, nursing home visitation and hospice.

Chip estimated his father did 400 weddings and 400 funerals.

Into his 90s, Chris said, Graham would take the bus to Portsmouth Regional Hospital twice a week for bedside and bereavement counseling.

Graham’s legacy is very much defined by his military service, and perhaps what he was known best for throughout the community. It’s estimated fewer than 1,000 D-Day veterans are alive today.

Graham enlisted in the Navy in 1941 – about six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor – after hearing a speech from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 2014, Graham was among a small group of D-Day veterans who met with President Obama and later sat on the stage with him and French President Francois Hollande during the 70th anniversary ceremonies at Omaha Beach. The U.S. State Department named Graham as sole representative at the Sword Beach ceremony.

At the time, Graham told the newspaper, “I was representing America. I was the only one out of 335 million Americans who got to be there. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that.”

In 2013, the French government awarded him the French Legion d’Honneur at the French Consulate in Boston.

Portsmouth Public Media Television in 2018 honored Graham with its first ever Lifetime Inspiration Award. He also was the subject of several documentary films.

In his free time, Graham was a renaissance man, enjoying reading, writing and classical music, his obituary stated. He wrote 172 sonnets that have been donated to the University of New Hampshire.

Jean taught piano and violin privately to students for years, her obituary stated, and then taught in the Kittery school system until retiring at age 62.

At 44, she joined the Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestra as a violinist, where she played for four decades until her “retirement” at age 90.

“She had a lifelong addiction and love for tennis and taught it to neighborhood children and family,” her obituary said.

Chip said his mom organized children’s orchestras, plays and Christmas pageants for the community for decades. She got both knees replaced at age 80 “because she wanted to dominate the over-80 age group of her tennis competition,” he said.

Jean’s children will remember her as a “loving and energetic mother who encouraged them to pursue their goals in life.”

“Jointly, they were so effective as parents in a loving and giving way,” said Chris. “And they used those talents for the betterment of the people around them.”

In 1962, Graham and Jean packed their six kids into a Rambler station wagon, with no air conditioning, Chip noted, and went tent camping across the country — cooking and feeding a family of eight off a Coleman stove.

Chris called his parents “thrifty and hardworking, with a striking willingness to follow through on what was right.”

“It’s hard for me to find times where they acted spitefully or jealously,” he said. “It just wasn’t in their DNA. What we observed was the total opposite. They lived a life, they both did.”

Jean spent the last year-and-a-half of her life at Websters at Rye with failing health and dementia. Graham chose to stay at home, Chip said, but would get caregivers to take him over for a visit every other day.

“He’d hold her hand and let her talk and then when the time was up, he’d give her a kiss and go home,” Chip said.

The Alvords were longtime members of the First Congregational Church of Kittery Point, where Graham’s grandfather had been a minister. In 2016, they celebrated Graham’s 100th birthday there.

Rev. Brian Gruhn said the church is uncertain what its next chapter will look like without the “warm and graceful presence” of Graham and Jean. The church’s widely-known and heavily-attended annual Christmas Fair, for example, began in 1916, the same year Graham was born.

“With their passing, we are not only mourning the loss of family, friends, mentors, teachers, role models, guardians and trusted elders,” Gruhn said, “we are also mourning the passing of an era in the life of our church.”

He added, “We are so grateful for all they did in life, for the bright and clear gifts and legacies they left behind.”


© 2020 Portsmouth Herald