Thomas H. Graves Sr. was born in Lexington, KY on 25 Oct 1934 to George Lee Graves and Mary Ellen Graves-Moore. The family moved to West College Hill in 1945, and Thomas attended Steele Grade School, followed by North College High School. He also attended the University of Illinois, where he was trained as a Certified Code Enforcement Officer.
In 1952, he married Elaine (née Bland). That year, Thomas became a member of Allen Chapel AME, eventually becoming Sunday School Superintendent and a member of the Steward Board. The couple had 4 children.
Graves was employed by General Electric for 25 years. While working as a computer programming administrator for GE’s Evendale Plant, he was involved with the West College Hill Civic Association, becoming its President while this community council was serving as the local delegate agency for the Office of Economic Opportunity funds.
Some of Graves’ community work and thinking was informed by Carl Patton, a University of Cincinnati urban planning student at the time, whose undergraduate thesis focused on the redevelopment of West College Hill.
In 1968, Graves led the Civic Association to apply for $1.5 million in urban renewal funding through the FACE program (Federally Assisted Code Enforcement). When the grant was approved, Graves took a leave of absence from GE to serve as the urban renewal director in his community for the next 4 years.
In 1973, GE awarded him the Gerald L. Phillipe Award for Distinguished Public Service for his work in the community. That year, his work in West College Hill was profiled in Cincinnati Magazine, which claimed that “A mere six years ago, many of its homes came equipped only with outside privies. It wasn’t uncommon to find a family of nine, or 14, living in a three or four room house. The few who tried soon discovered they could not get FHA loans for improvement.”
Graves worked as Director of Code Enforcement for the Hamilton County Commissioners and as Senior Housing Planner for the OKI Regional Council of Governments. He was also Housing Director for the Urban League.
According to his obituary, “Thomas wrote and published three ‘how to information guides’ which were implemented and used by area wide Agencies including Cincinnati and Hazelwood, Ohio; a Conventional Urban Renewal Program for the city of Blue Ash, Ohio; and a How to Buy A House for Tri-State Savings guide.”
After 12 years as Key Account Executive at Advo Marketing and Advertising, he retired and started volunteering for the Hamilton County Parks. That organization hired Thomas to start its “greeter program,” and he worked for Parks for the next 6 years.
In 2005, Thomas was elected to the North College Hill City Council, where he served until his passing in 2014 at age 80. He is buried in Bevis Cedar Grove Cemetery.