Obituary: Sara "Sallie" Graham, 1938-2020 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Sara "Sallie" Graham, 1938-2020 

Operating room nurse was 'honestly one of the funniest people in the world'

Published August 10, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated August 10, 2020 at 11:50 a.m.

click to enlarge Sallie Graham - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Sallie Graham

Sara (aka Sallie) L. Graham (Mathes) of Burlington, Vt., died peacefully at home surrounded by her family on August 4, 2020. She was born October 22, 1938, to the late Frank and Kathryn Mathes — the middle of their three girls. She grew up in West Hartford, Conn., and summered on the shore in Old Saybrook. She attended Colby Sawyer Junior College and, in 1960, earned her nursing degree from Johns Hopkins University. She returned to Connecticut and then, a few years later, settled in Old Saybrook, where she and the love of her life, Hugh (Gray) Hammond Graham II, would raise not only their family but the widest and deepest social network known to humankind.

Sallie was predeceased by Gray in 2011. She followed her last born grandson to Vermont in 2017 in search of new adventures. She is survived by her daughters, Mary Kate Mundell (Chip), Diane Kearney (Marc) and Tara Graham (Frank); her sisters, Debbie Brabec-Liebewein (Hutch) and Barbara Tirone (Frank); countless nieces and nephews and great-nieces and -nephews (with whom she loved talking and visiting); and her grandchildren: Sara and Dillon Kearney, Graham and Rowan Mundell, Rhiannon, Traven and Kaden Rosamilia, and Hugh Hammond Graham III. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the endless number of “fourth daughters,” a title extended to the daughters of her friends or friends of her daughters — you know who you are.

She found her professional home at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, where she worked for more than 30 years as an operating room nurse, retiring in 1998. Those who worked alongside her say she brought the OR to new life. She was one in a million — honestly one of the funniest people in the world, smart as a whip, political, spunky and witty. She loved hosting and attending parties and could always be found near the center. Sallie was genuinely curious and interested in others — spending hours talking with others about minute details of the everyday lives of the people she knew. She loved Broadway shows, live music, traveling, golf, playing bridge, dancing and boating. Being so social and fun-loving, she never liked to leave a party. She was always the last to leave. She and Gray made friends wherever they went, especially treasuring their times in Old Saybrook; at the Inlets in Nokomis, Fla.; and in Kihea, Hawaii.

After moving to Vermont, she was proud to have completed the Hospice Volunteer Training Program at the University of Vermont Health Network Home Health & Hospice and, in her last few years, made peace with her mortality. During COVID-19, she taught family members how to play bridge — something she had wished to do for a long time. She elected her hospice benefit when it was clear that the risks associated with interventions outweighed any benefits. Her quality of life was not something Sallie would compromise.

A few people have noted, “Heaven just became a whole lot more fun.” Dance on, Sallie — you will live forever in our hearts. In honor of Sallie, do something outrageous. Paint your hair blue, flirt with everyone you meet, put butter on everything, dress up for Halloween, ask endless questions, be very funny, and absolutely be the last to leave a party!

Sallie was deeply grateful for the expert skill and symptom management that only a hospice team can afford. Her last nine days of life were borrowed time, and not a moment was wasted — listening to music, the ocean, reminiscing with family and friends old and new. A wonderful end of life for someone who was so full of life.

For those wishing, memorial donations in her honor could be made to the LAM Foundation (; Avery’s Fund ( or the University of Vermont Health Network Home Health & Hospice — Home Hospice Program (

Sallie’s remains will be dispersed by her family and friends as she wished. A party fitting for Sallie will be hosted by her girls and their families in July of 2021 at Cornfield Point in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

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