Joe Graham

posted on January 3, 2014

I guess when you live a half mile from nowhere you’re the last to know the news. This morning I learned that Joe Graham, Executive Director for NRA Publications, is retiring at the end of this day.

Joe Graham isn’t just an industry guy; he’s an icon in the gun magazine publishing industry. He came into the industry some 16 or 17 years ago, for something to do after retiring as the CEO of Pentax USA where he took it from a so-so player in the camera industry to one of its leading competitors. Nearly every blooming shutterbug who now has some grey in their hair has had a Pentax K1000 in their camera bag at one time or another. Before he worked his way up to that position, Joe spent some time in Vietnam and did a couple of years with the Minnesota Vikings.

My first encounter with Joe was fairly early in his publishing career. He was the publisher at Petersen’s Hunting, and I was a lowly Associate Editor. We were sort of simpatico—just a couple of rednecks, he from Kentucky and I from Wyoming, by way of California—with a passion for guns and hunting, and we hit it off quickly. A year or so later Joe accepted a position with the NRA as Executive Director of Publications. We stayed in contact with each other.

About a year and a half later we were talking on the phone, and I was grousing about some things, including the horrific condition of a rabid outdoorsman living in the bowels of Los Angeles. “Would you consider moving to Virginia?” he asked.

“For what?” I replied.

“Well it so happens I need an editor for InSights and Shooting Sports USA,” he said. I thought it over a bit. InSights is the Official Journal for NRA junior members, and Shooting Sports USA is the magazine for NRA shooting competition. I don’t have any children, and—no offense intended—organized, regimented shooting competition bores me. I mentioned that to Joe and figured it would not be a good mix.

“Now wait a minute,” he said, “Let me tell you what I have in mind.” Joe then proceeded to lay out his vision for an NRA-sponsored, general interest shooting magazine designed for newsstand sales. It would be a way to show the world NRA’s values regarding the gun and shooting industry and tap into those shooters who may not be NRA members. “I can get magazines on the newsstand and sell ads,” he told me, “But I don’t know the first thing about putting a magazine together. That would be your job, and I’ll provide whatever the resources you need to accomplish that.” Wow! I was stunned.

We came to terms, and he moved me back to Virginia. More importantly, he kept his word…in spades. Not only did Joe see to it that I had the resources I needed to start up what became Shooting Illustrated, he carefully taught, coddled and groomed me to handle the other side of editorship—the side few ever see, management. In the interest of full disclosure, he yelled at me from time to time. Sometimes the yelling was justified, sometimes it wasn’t. When it wasn’t, and the mistake was pointed out to him, Joe would occasionally relent and apologize.

Giving birth to a magazine has several similarities to giving birth to a child. Some—women primarily—will probably want to challenge that statement, but unless you have worked 29 days straight, 10 to 14 hours a day, some of those days sleeping in your office, and all during that time have a number of people from NRA Members to senior management calling for your head on a pike, I would offer that the comparison is valid. And by the way, when those people were calling for my head on a pike it was Joe Graham who took the blows and defended me all the way.

During my early years at NRA, I went through some personally traumatic times. My father was dying and I would regularly extend any business trip a few days to spend some time with him. The NRA, through Joe’s efforts and support, stood by me all the time, without fail. I confess that I did not handle some of these events well, and it was Joe who steered me back on course several times. When I made the decision to leave the best job I have ever had and return to my beloved Wyoming, Joe Graham continued to support me and my efforts. I owe him a debt of gratitude that I can never repay.

So in a very few days Joe will be doing what I did some 6 1/2 years ago—loading up a rental trailer and joining his charming wife Sylvia for a well-deserved retirement in Colorado. Godspeed Joe, and thank you for everything.


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