DURHAM, N.C.— On October 26, 1918, the popular 42-year-old president of the University of North Carolina, Edward Kidder Graham, died in the night. The cause: complications from a highly contagious flu that killed an estimated 675,000 US residents during a brutal pandemic.
Newspapers around North Carolina eulogized “Sonny” Graham as a fallen educational hero, the university’s youngest-ever chief, and a mentor much beloved by Chapel Hill students. The Monroe Journal detailed his quick descent into illness:
Dr. Graham had been ill less than a week, being stricken with the influenza some time last Monday. The disease quickly assumed the most malignant type, and turned into the dread pneumonia on Wednesday. Dr. Graham had a high fever from the start, but doctors did not despair of saving him until yesterday.
Upon UNC’s naming Graham’s successor in January 1919, longtime university trustee William Nash Everett said in a speech, “Marvin Hendrix Stacy was of the material of which presidents are made!” But “within the week—of a disease contracted during the line of duty, while attending the meeting of the committee, Dean Stacy was dead.” Everett imagined Graham and his saintly sidekick Stacy helming some great pearly-gates public university in the sky.