She was born in Mineola and moved to Woodhaven in 1972, where she worked for a while as a stylist at Vincent’s Hair Salon. Her husband had five children from his first marriage and Graves already had two of her own. They would later add one more, Sean.
So when she found her true calling with the Mommy & Me classes, the experience of a roomful of children was nothing new to her.
Not only was it something she was comfortable with, it was a role she excelled in.
As a member of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, I have been privileged to work with many young residents who are volunteering to make our little corner of the world a better place. I am never surprised when one of our volunteers mentions that he or she was a graduate of Graves’ Mommy & Me class.
She may no longer be with us, but the good work she did has paid dividends many times over and will continue to do so for many years to come.
She was so very effective because she led by example. Case in point: in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy the office of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association served as a collection point for relief supplies.
We had a lot of people at the office, helping to unload donations, sort them, and load them up on cars and trucks bound for the affected areas. It was hard work and a bit chaotic and in the middle of all this, Graves showed up with her shopping cart looking to help.
Now, I have to be honest here, I wasn’t sure how she could help. I was concerned she might be in the way or get hurt. But she took her shopping cart and went store to store, asking for donations and bringing them back to our office.
She’d go wheeling off in one direction and come back an hour later with a cart full of supplies. Then, she’d be off again.
When she wasn’t collecting supplies, she stood outside the office alongside her son Sean, collecting donations. In that first day alone she collected over $400 from passersby, which we used to purchase supplies.
It turned out she was more than just helpful, she was indispensable. Her stamina and enthusiasm was an inspiration; her good humor and wit, a relief from the exhaustion.
And what was so remarkable was that she was working alongside some of the very same kids from her Mommy & Me classes. I remember one young woman coming in with a few cases of bottled water and being excited to see her former teacher. And Graves proudly introduced her to everyone as one of her former students.
Graves loved to make people laugh. She was a comedian, a free spirit, some might even say she was delightfully eccentric, but above all she’d be best remembered as an educator who gave back to her community way more than she ever took out of it.
And she passed that way of life on to her students, not just by her words but by her deeds. And so, even though Graves may no longer be here to make us laugh, her spirit lives on in many of the young hearts that are broken this week.
There will be a non-traditional memorial service for Graves at N.F. Walker Funeral Home, 87-34 80th Street, on Thursday, December 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. Everyone is welcome to come, not to mourn the death of, but instead to celebrate the life of our good friend, Miss Judy Graves.