Pequot Lakes man who died of COVID-19 remembered for humor, generous spirit

Maury Graham, 71, of Pequot Lakes, died on April 26

An adult and two children sit along the sidewalk.
Maury Graham and his children, Maggie and Jonathan, at Disney World in the mid-1980s. Graham died April 26 at 71, the first Crow Wing County resident to fall victim to COVID-19.
Courtesy of Jonathan Graham

Through conversations with their family members, colleagues and close friends, MPR News is remembering the lives of the people we’ve lost, too soon, to COVID-19. If you’d like to share the story of someone you’ve lost to COVID-19, please email us at tell@mpr.org.


Maury Graham’s family and friends couldn’t be with him when he died this spring at a St. Cloud, Minn., hospital, and they couldn't hold a traditional funeral.

So a few weeks after his death, they all got together on a Zoom call to share memories of Graham.

For over an hour, they swapped stories about the man with a larger-than-life personality who filled up every room he entered with warmth and humor.

"I know he would be honored and also a little self-flattered to see the amazing crowd that he can gather,” his son, Jonathan Graham, told the dozens of people on the call. “Up until the day he died, he had a power like nobody else to do that."

Maury Graham died April 26 at 71, the first Crow Wing County resident to fall victim to COVID-19.

He grew up in Minnetonka and spent summers in the Brainerd Lakes Area. That's where he settled about six years ago, in Pequot Lakes, Minn., with his third wife, Debbi.

His family and friends say he was a talented salesman and a savvy real estate investor. He loved adventurous road trips and fishing, though his friends say Graham’s stories about the fish he didn't land were far more dramatic than his actual catches. 

"I didn't always listen to Mo, but whenever I did, I always got in trouble,” said Glen Belgum, a local fishing guide and longtime friend.

Jonathan says wherever his dad went, excitement just seemed to follow. He recalls friends admiring his dad's collection of classic cars.

"One of my friends asked him one night, ‘What's faster, your GTO or your GTX?’” said Jonathan Graham. “He said, ‘I think we should go find out.’ So in the middle of the night, we drag-raced his cars."

Maury Graham loved his classic cars and the oldies music that went with them — Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, the Platters. If an Elvis song came on the radio, everyone around him was treated to an impromptu concert.

A child uses a squirt gun on an older man.
Maury Graham gets a squirt from his grandson, Nico, at his home outside of Pequot Lakes during the summer of 2019.
Courtesy of Jonathan Graham

"My dad had a lot of energy and a strong presence, and nobody forgot him,” said his daughter, Maggie Graham. 

She said her dad was a longtime youth coach and mentor for at-risk youth who always rooted for the underdog.

"That's just always how he's been,” she said. “If somebody has a problem, he literally wants to put on a cape and fix it.”

Maggie Graham recalled her dad watching her compete in a regional high school track meet, in which she came in dead last. 

Afterward, while she was crying, he told her, “It's really easy to come in first, but it takes a lot of courage to come in last.” 

"Maury can make people feel like everything was OK and going to be OK, even if it wasn't,” she said. “Even if it didn't feel good, he could lighten the load. And he could put a smile on anyone's face if he needed to."

Friends recall how Graham was always willing to counsel someone about their startup business, or sit with a fellow member of a 12-step program who was struggling. 

He was active in the Brainerd Lakes Area Alano program, helping other people like himself in recovery.

Two people hold up fish they caught at a lake.
Maury and Debbi Graham fish on a lake with guide Glen Belgum (not pictured), who was also one of Maury Graham's best friends. Maury Graham was the first person to die from COVID-19 in Crow Wing County.
Courtesy of Jonathan Graham

Jonathan said his dad was deeply human, with insecurities and imperfections. Those vulnerabilities made him love his dad even more.

"He taught me how to hunt and appreciate the outdoors, and every season he taught me how to fish,” he said.

“He taught me to go water skiing with cutoff jeans on. His chin-into-the-world, ‘You don't need to do it the right way, you just need to do it your way’ kind of approach … it just melts my heart when I think about it."

Maury and Debbi Graham both contracted COVID-19 this spring, after Debbi returned from a trip abroad. They both got very sick and were hospitalized in Brainerd, then sent home.

Debbi recovered, but Maury got worse. He ended up at a St. Cloud hospital, on a ventilator, where he died.

Debbi Graham said the whole ordeal has felt unreal.

”I wasn't there with him. and I couldn't be by his side,” she said. “To me, he's on a road trip. It's just so it's hard to process all of what's transpired."

Even at the end, Maury Graham didn't give up his legendary sense of humor. During his last phone call with his son Jonathan, he joked, "Nothing beats COVID for having a good time."

It was a twist on one of his favorite catchphrases, “Nothing beats fun for having a good time.” 

Jonathan said it was classic Mo, trying to lighten the burden on those he loved. He hopes that the ability to connect with people and ease their pain is what people remember most about his father.

"He had this amazing sunlight,” Jonathan said. “He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. He made you feel so in the focus of his tractor beam of love and appreciation. … To wield that with good intent is a strong power."

In addition to his wife and children, Graham is survived by a grandson, Nico, and a sister, Pamela.

His family said they plan to hold an in-person celebration of Maury Graham’s life when circumstances allow.

Through conversations with their family members, colleagues and close friends, MPR News is remembering the lives of the people we’ve lost, too soon, to COVID-19. If you’d like to share the story of someone you’ve lost to COVID-19, please email us at tell@mpr.org.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.