Photo: Courtesy of Denver Athletics
DU Athletic Director Ron Grahame will retire from DU this week, 50 years to the day when he first arrived on the DU campus in 1969 as a DU freshman. As a standout DU athlete, coach and longtime administrator, many DU Pioneer fans and athletes have never known DU athletics without Ron Grahame on campus, and we are all the better for his years of selfless and effective service to the Crimson and the Gold.
Ron Grahame was born in 1950 in Victoria, British Columbia. And no surprise, Grahame likely picked up his reserved, gracious and amiable nature in Victoria, voted as the Friendliest City in the World. In contrast, Grahame also took up the rough-and-tumble game of hockey, playing goalie with the local junior team, the Victoria Cougars, where he was soon recruited by legendary DU coach Murray Armstrong.
Grahame came to DU in 1969, the fall after DU had won the NCAA title, and soon worked his way into the starting goalie role, where he would be a part of three Frozen Four DU teams and become the DU Captain, a first-team all-American and a first-team all-WCHA goalie in his senior season in 1972-73. Today, he still co-holds DU’s all-time winningest goalie record with 82 wins, along with Tanner Jaillet. He also still holds the DU record for career saves with 3,562. Grahame graduated from DU in 1973 with a degree in Physical Education, and also played on DU’s lacrosse team.
After DU, Grahame took his hockey skills to the professional level where he would make his first big splash with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, a 1970s breakaway league populated with many NHL players who defected to the new league for larger salaries. When Grahame joined Houston on a regular basis in 1974-75, it was led by NHL Hall-of- Famer Gordie Howe. That year Grahame led the WHA with 33 wins, was voted the league’s top goalie and a first-team all-Star on the way to becoming playoff MVP when he led the Aeros to the Avco Cup Championship. He is still remembered in Houston for these feats of hockey skill. Grahame was a star in Houston for two more seasons before he signed as a free agent with the NHL’s Boston Bruins after the WHA folded.
Grahame played well in Boston and soon earned the first string role following an injury to Bruins legend Gerry Cheevers. In October, 1978 Grahame was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a first-round draft choice that turned out to be Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque. Grahame spent a little over two years playing behind the Kings’ terrible defense and ended his NHL career with a short stint with the Quebec Nordiques in 1980. He also had become a well-known face across the sports world as part of a national TV beer commercial that ran for many years in that era.
Following his pro hockey retirement, Grahame soon joined his alma mater as assistant hockey coach under head coach Ralph Backstrom in the early 1980s, an era when DU hockey was mostly inconsistent and mediocre due to the grim overall University financial situation of that time period, which slowed investment in the hockey team. Nevertheless, in 1985-86, Grahame was part of the tremendous record-breaking 34-win season which saw DU win the WCHA regular season and playoff titles, and the Pioneers also grabbed DU’s first NCAA Frozen Four appearance since Grahame had minded DU’s nets in 1973.
Grahame left DU briefly in the early 1990s, but was soon called back to campus as an assistant athletic director in 1993, a role he would hold for the next 25+ years under various athletic directors and under various titles, helping to elevate DU to a full-Division I sports powerhouse in this time period, as DU’s overall financial condition had improved.
With the departure of Vice-Chancellor for Athletics Peg-Bradley Doppes last year, Grahame was finally given the Athletic Director title he so richly deserved, confirming his contributions and legacy at his alma mater – a rare feat today in the cut-throat athletic business where turnover, firings and relocations are much more typical. Grahame has received numerous awards for his work at DU, but he retires not only well-respected here at DU, but by the hockey world as a founding father of the National Collegiate Hockey and a former Chair of the NCAA D-I Hockey Committee, who got to be on the ice to present his alma mater with the NCAA trophy in 2004.
Grahame always put the University of Denver and DU athletes first when making major decisions and represented DU with integrity in everything he did. He delighted in the success of others and avoided the limelight, even as DU Athletics experienced its greatest era after the full departmental return to NCAA Division I status.
He also had to weather some tough times as a DU administrator, too, including having to be the one to tell Jesse Martin’s family that the horrific broken neck injury suffered by Martin in 2010 was too risky to permit a potential hockey comeback with DU. Grahame also had to deal with the dramatic and unpopular firing of DU Hockey coach George Gwozdecky in 2013, but Grahame soldiered on with his trademark calm personality and performed well under many different bosses.
Take a look here for a full summary of Ron Grahame’s awards and accomplishments along with more comments from coaches, administrators and peers.
Ron Grahame’s 50 years of service to DU make him undoubtedly one of the greatest Pioneers of all time.
And, no doubt, he will not be craving the spotlight this afternoon when he will receive numerous tributes for a job well done. The fact that Grahame was the inspiration for (and received) DU’s inaugural “Unsung Hero” says it all. But, make no mistake, Grahame was a major contributor to DU’s culture and success.
The DU Division of Athletics and Recreation will host a retirement party for Grahame today from 3:30-5 p.m. MT in the Gottesfeld Room on the fourth floor of the Daniel L. Ritchie Center for Sports and Wellness.
We wish Ron, his wife Charlotte (who has been an executive for the Colorado Avalanche) for the last 25 years) and two sons, John (a former Stanley Cup-winning NHL goalie and 2006 US Olympian) and Jason (a former DU hockey defenseman in the early 2000s), the very best.