A hot-button issue and personal convictions helped launch Tom Graves’ political career.
In 2001, Tom and his wife Julie were protesting against the establishment of an abortion clinic in Calhoun. Julie became the founder and president of the Gordon County chapter of Right to Life and they quickly became involved in prayer walks, meetings and petition drives.
As a result, the Right to Life community, churches and local supporters helped turn the tide against the clinic.
Graves saw basic civic fundamentals at work and was intrigued, and he decided try to help bring conservative politics to Washington D.C.
Graves, who still maintains a home in Gordon County, now serves as a U.S. Representative for the 9th district of Georgia and continues to use conservative values as a guide in his decision-making.
Born and raised in the “backwoods of Bartow County” as he describes it, Graves grew up playing outdoors with friends, and he fell in love with football.
“When I was growing up, I had a very simple beginning, not in wealth or in politics or anything like that,” he recalled. “I had parents that loved me and they kept encouraging me to dream big and work hard and I could achieve much more than they ever had.”
At the age of 17, he owned his first business.
“I started using the vehicle I had, bought a lawn mower and began mowing grass,” he said.
“That’s sort of how I started getting in the business field, and then I began reading quite a bit on business and what it takes to be a successful businessperson or in sales and marketing and all those different things while I was in high school and then transitioned into college.”
Graves graduated from Cass High School in Cartersville and then attended the University of Georgia. Paying for college on his own with the help of student loans and grants, he continued to work and graduated with a degree in business finance from UGA.
Out of college, he worked as an asset recovery specialist for federated department stores.
“I saved up money and bought a small business and then bought a landscaping company and operated that for a while, then transitioned into real estate investment, which was commercial retail property and multi family housing,” he said.
An unpaved road in Ranger
Graves and his wife, who is a former teacher, have been married 15 years.
“After college I landed in Marietta. That’s where I met my wife, Julie, at Roswell Street Baptist Church,” he said. “We met there in the singles department and after a period of dating, we were married.”
Eventually, the couple settled in Ranger.
“We sort of have a nice story about how we ended up in Ranger. Everyone always asks ‘How did you end up in Gordon County?,’” he said. “We were going on a picnic, and I was driving her to Chatsworth, and we were going up 411 and we were going to have a picnic in Chatsworth on the large lawn.”
“As we were going up 411,” he added, there was a sign on the side of the road that was just hand painted you could tell it was just sketched on there and it said house for sale with land, and there was an arrow pointing down a dirt road, and it was Craig Road.”
As they traveled down the dirt road, Graves saw a farm house, an old pine box style, that was surrounded by bushes, trees and weeds and knew it was their house.
“It ultimately worked out that we could move, renovate the home and rewire and plumb, floor and paint … all the things you could do as a newlywed couple… and I couldn’t imagine that’s where our family would grow up. We dreamed of having children, and shortly thereafter, we had our first child, and that’s where they have all grown up,” he said.
Family comes first for Graves.
“When I think about goals, I immediately think of my family,” he said. “My goals would be for our children to be equipped and that we enable them with everything they need to be successful and to have successful families as they move forward.”
“So, it’s really being that example for them that’s necessary to help train them up into who they should be as they move forward in life,” he added.
He and Julie have three children: JoAnn, 12, John, 11, and Janey, 8.
While John and Janey both attend public school, Graves said he felt that homeschooling was a better option for JoAnn during her adolescent years.
“My wife used to teach sixth grade and she sees that middle school is such a transitional time for students,” he said.
“We just said … ‘When we get to that point, we want them (our children) to be at home for maybe sixth, seventh and eighth so they can stay focused on their studies and can transition as they grow into a young lady or young man and then when it gets to high school, they can decide,’” he added.
As a father, he said homeschooling is a daily occurrence in every home.
“No matter if a child goes to public school or not, homeschooling occurs every day. Parents are engaging in their life and teaching them throughout time,” Graves said.
Parenting as a politician
The start of his political career first brought up some important parenting lessons when he was given negative feedback in the media or via mail.
“It has come up, particularly through the campaign cycle,
he said. “They (his family) see the mail or the commercials. They know who we are as a family and its’ unfortunate that at times, campaigns can get to the point where they tear individuals down, and it does impact them.”
One choice that the Graves made when he and Julie were a young couple was to not have cable or own a TV and they have been without either for almost 13 years.
“We think that this has allowed us to somewhat stay, I guess, insulated from negativity… what’s in the news or whatever it is,” he said. “It also protects our children from material that we might not think they are ready for.”
The Graves family also feels being involved in church helps center their lives. They are members of Belmont Baptist Church in Calhoun, and the children are involved in the AWANAS program there.
From his early days as a husband, father, community activist, and politician, Graves said hopes, through it all, that he has held true to his convictions and his core beliefs.