Joseph Clark Graves Jr.

Thursday 1st of May 1930 - Friday 11th of September 2020

Joseph Clark Graves Jr.

Joseph C. Graves Jr., 1930 – 2020


Joseph C. Graves Jr., former Kentucky State Senator, Kentucky State Representative and Lexington City Commissioner, died peacefully Friday morning, September 11. Mr. Graves, 90, had lived his entire life in Lexington, having originally been associated with Graves-Cox and Company, the clothing store co-founded in 1889 by his grandfather, George K. Graves.


Born May 1, 1930, Mr. Graves grew up in Lexington and had a lasting love for his community. As a child, he was afflicted with Perthes disease, affecting a hip socket, but progressed from bedridden to wheelchair to crutches before walking again and becoming an accomplished horseman, riding over jumps with the Iroquois Hunt Club and galloping thoroughbreds for his business partner, legendary horseman Colonel Philip T. Chinn. Mr. Graves learned to ride at Montrose Farm on a pony given to him by his grandfather, Dr. M. E. Johnston, a popular physician who also bred Hall of Fame racehorse Sarazen.


Mr. Graves graduated in 1948 from University High School in Lexington. Following a year at William and Mary University in Virginia, Mr. Graves returned to Kentucky to learn the horse business and enrolled at Transylvania University. He graduated in 1952 and joined the marketing department at Graves-Cox, to which he was elected vice president and treasurer in 1960.


Becoming a confidant as well as a business partner to Col. Chinn – an iconic horse salesman, breeder and trainer 56 years his senior – Mr. Graves was featured prominently in a 1956 Sports Illustrated article about Col. Chinn. It was also during the 1950s that Mr. Graves developed concerns about racial discrimination in still segregated Lexington and about the haphazard planning accompanying rapid economic development in the area. At the urging of Mr. Graves and his father, Joseph C. Graves Sr., Graves-Cox employee Ferdinand Garner was promoted to be the first African American salesman at a men’s clothing store on Main Street in Lexington.  Mr. Garner became Graves-Cox’s leading salesman in his first full year in that position.  Mr. Graves served on the city’s first Human Rights Commission that successfully negotiated the desegregation of Lexington’s movie theaters in the early 1960s.


Mr. Graves was president of the Citizens Association for Planning in 1960-1962 and president of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation in 1965-1968. In March 1964 he participated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the March on Frankfort in support of the Kentucky Civil Rights Bill that was signed by Governor Ned Breathitt in January 1966. Finally venturing officially into politics, Mr. Graves was elected Lexington City Commissioner in 1967 and 1969, to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1971, and to the Kentucky State Senate in 1973, winning the two state races as a Republican. He later switched to the Democratic Party in 1992.


In 1977, Mr. Graves ran for the non-partisan office of mayor of recently-merged Lexington-Fayette County and lost a hotly-contested election to Jim Amato, who had been a close runner-up for that office four years earlier. That mayoral race was Mr. Graves’ last political venture. In an address to Tates Creek High School’s 1978 National Honor Society, Mr. Graves discussed dealing with loss and rejection, revealing that the mayoral defeat had been his biggest disappointment since his father’s sudden death 18 years earlier.


An avid historic preservationist and environmental advocate, Mr. Graves was a board member of Lexington Cemetery, Transylvania University, Hindman Settlement School, Ashland the Henry Clay Estate, Bluegrass Tomorrow, and Christ Church Apartments, which he helped establish. He was a lifelong member of Christ Church Cathedral and, at one time, a member of the vestry. He worked with several family members, public officials, and philanthropists to create Cumberland Island National Seashore.  He also was a board member and past chairman of Cumberland Island (Georgia) Historic Foundation and authored the book, “Cumberland Island Saved”, in 2009. He was a leader in efforts to preserve the scenic beauty of Paris Pike and helped establish Community Trust Bank in Central Kentucky. In the Kentucky legislature, Mr. Graves co-sponsored legislation for scenic easement to preserve open spaces in Kentucky, and he also championed the Equal Rights Amendment for Women.


In May of 1988, Mr. Graves received the Morrison Medallion, the highest award given to a Transylvania alum. In July of 2003, he was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame for Exemplary Leadership in Civil Rights.


Mr. Graves is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Hart Hagin Graves, his sister, Nancy Graves Talbott, and by his three daughters, Lucy Graves (predeceased by Alec Macmillan), Margaret Graves (Jeff Hallos), Elizabeth Graves (Matt Gooding), six grandchildren, Elizabeth Weber, Galen Weber, Marvin Weber, Hart Hallos, Wick Hallos, and Frank Gooding. Also surviving him are two brothers in law (Joe and Rab Hagin) and numerous nieces and nephews. 

No visitation planned. A private, family-only graveside service will be held, with the Very Rev. Carol Wade of Christ Church Cathedral officiating.   

In lieu of flowers, donations are encouraged to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, the Hindman Settlement School or Kentucky Educational Television (KET).

Guest Book

Becci Ray


My condolences to Hart and all Joe's family. He was a fine human being who contributed so much to Lexington.

3 days ago

Willy and Lisa Fogle


Mr. Graves: Always was working for what was best for everyone. He was a real leader. He will be missed. I pray for his family and friends.

4 days ago

Peggy and dick sise


Dear cousin Hart and all, Our thoughts are with you at this sad time. Joe’s obituary made us proud and hopeful. He is the author of one of our family’s very favorite books! All our love Peggy and Dick Sise

5 days ago

Leigh McMurry Carr


I worked with Mr. Graves at Community Bank. He was so kind and always made time for the employees. I thought the world of him. My sympathies to Hart and the girls. May God hold you close.

5 days ago