Pioneering child-care advocate Dorothy Graham dies at age 80

A pioneer in North Carolina early child care died Saturday.

Dorothy B. Graham, 80, died in her Durham home from clear cell endometrial cancer.

Graham helped launch the Durham Day Care Council in 1976 and served as director until 1997, advocating better child care be made available for North Carolinians.

She was born in Robeson County in 1937 and grew up on a farm. As a girl, Graham watched her widowed mother support seven children by selling homemade cakes and crops on weekends.

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Dorothy Graham and her children (Left to Right) Frances “Scottie” Seawell, Mary Seawell and Malcolm Seawell. Courtesy of Frances “Scottie” Seawell

Graham was pivotal in helping persuade the city of Durham to inspect home-based day cares for basic fire safety. Additionally, she composed a list of standards to help guide parents seeking satisfactory early child care.

The state later consulted Graham's list, detailing what to look for when seeking quality care, after beginning its official inspections of home-based day cares in 1987.

Graham's daughters, Mary Seawell and Frances “Scottie” Seawell, remember their mother as a woman always ahead of the time. Graham “recycled before anyone recycled,” Mary Seawell said.

“I can remember driving huge stacks of newspapers 20 minutes away to drop them in a giant dumpster at Northgate Mall,” Mary Seawell said, her mother having been a longtime subscriber to The Durham Morning Herald and The Durham Sun – and later, The Herald-Sun.

Graham loved word games – especially Scrabble. She joined Facebook before her children and grandchildren set up their own accounts — after their mother and grandmother told them to.

Over Facebook, Graham insistently challenged her prodigy to Scrabble matches. When she could not play an acquaintance, she competed against online strangers.

This habit led her into Romanian, Scrabble-playing circles, playing over Romanian servers.

Once, after catching a computer virus, Graham explained, “Those Romanians got me!”

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636