Twice each year I get very sentimental about my Daddy; the week of the anniversary of his death and on his birthday, October 4. He died June 13, 1993, after a sudden, completely unexpected massive cerebral hemorrhage. Before that day his health was perfect, he was an active man, an avid golfer and led a life devoted to God, family and community.
An accomplished orthodontist, he was known for his research, admired by his students in the orthodontic department at the University of Tennessee in Memphis and loved by the patients he saw in his Jonesboro, Arkansas practice. As president of the Jonesboro Rotary Club, he was deeply involved in the community and after his death the Club named their most prestigious award after him, the James F. Gramling Service Above Self Award. He taught orthodontics in various places around the United States and abroad and published in professional journals. He had an impeccable sense of personal style, elegant and classic; much like a Brooks Brothers ad — blue blazer, well-cut gray slacks, starched white shirt and striped repp tie.
He was Dr. Gramling to some, Jim to many, Jimmy to my mom, Sonny to family and childhood friends and Dad to me. I remember him best driving the boat at the lake wearing this goofy baseball hat, which I still have. Though he taught hundreds of orthodontists in his career, I value the most the lessons less well-documented: the way he explained the early-morning dew on the grass to his granddaughter (my oldest daughter) Elizabeth, how he taught her to shop at Wal-Mart (never buy the one in front) and the grace, kindness and generosity he modeled for us all. He had the spiritual gift of wisdom and I cannot count how many times since he’s been gone that I’ve needed that wisdom.
After 16 years, I can look at photos of him, like this one, and smile and remember. I can watch a video and hear his voice and it doesn’t rip me apart from the inside out. Though there are still tears, it’s not overwhelming grief, but gratitude that, for far too short a time I got to know him and be loved and mentored by him.