Well-known Norfolk businesswoman and philanthropist Mildred Graves dies at 102

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A well-known Norfolk native who was known as a businesswoman and philanthropist has died.

Mildred Graves died Thursday morning at a local hospital. She was 102.

She and her husband started Graves Funeral Home back in the 1950s. It was the first-ever Black-owned and catered funeral home built from the ground up in the community.

Her son, Tommy III, played for the Steelers and her daughter, Lorraine, was a ballerina for the Dance Theater of Harlem. Graves was also a retired Norfolk Public Schools teacher. 

She died at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and passed peacefully after a short illness, five years to the date after her husband Thomas Graves Jr. died.

The Graves family released a statement Thursday evening:

“The Graves family would like to thank you all for your support during this time, as we mourn the loss of the matriarch of our family. We ask that you keep us lifted in thoughts and prayer. Funeral services are pending.”

10 On Your Side sat down with members of her family on Monday, who said it’s been a difficult time for them.

“My mom and I were close. We lived together. People would say we were like two peas in a pod because we were always together, which we were. During COVID, we didn’t go out a lot so we were at the house basically 24/7 unless someone had errands. We would take turns going out. So, it’s been very difficult,” Lorraine Graves said.

For her grandson Jason Graves, it’s also been hard.

“To me, it’s being a funeral director, it’s rough. It’s rough,” he said. “I would say it makes my grief a little bit more difficult to deal with being a funeral director myself and being around people going through the same thing.”

The funeral home, which has been family-owned since it opened, will celebrate its 69th anniversary later this year.

Without Graves’ support during its initial years, it might not have been here today.

“I want people to know how much she sacrificed, not only for this family but the business. She literally gave my grandfather her entire paycheck when they first started so my grandfather could make the payroll and keep Graves Funeral Home afloat before they really got started,” Jason Graves said. “She sacrificed so much. I want people to know the sacrifices she made for me, my aunt sitting here, my brother, father and nephews for us to be in the position we’re in today.”

Lorraine Graves said her mother was also incredibly supportive of her career as a ballerina and brought up her mother staying by her side after she had foot surgery last year.

“She took care of me for a good five months. I wasn’t mobile. The two of us slept on the sofas in the den. She wouldn’t go upstairs. Who does that? She wouldn’t leave me, and that’s the person my mom was to everyone she met,” Graves said.

The family described Graves as an amazing woman full of grace and humility.

Lorraine Graves said her mother was a fighter surviving breast cancer, a brain tumor, a heart attack, and gall bladder removal.

They’re grateful for the outpouring of support from the community including other funeral homes that have sent food.

Jason Graves said it means the world to him to be able to carry on the legacy his grandparents started and hopes to continue it.

“I do feel that sense of duty to keep that legacy going to keep it going and pass it on to the next generation behind me and make sure it’s in good shape for them,” he said.

Funeral services will take place later this week at Graves Funeral Home.

While it is open to the public, the family asks that if you can watch via live stream, please do so because of COVID precautions.

10 On Your Side will post the times, dates, and link when it becomes available.

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