Obituary of Lee Gravatte, III
James “Lee” Gravatte III, 67, passed away at his home in Washington DC on June 29, 2023, with his wife at his side. A bit of a rebellious soul, whose refrigerator magnet read “I tried being normal once. Worst 5 minutes of my life”, he would have loved that his life made medical history.
Lee was born in Alexandria VA. In an intimation of his future, he fell from the top of a waterfall at age 16, landing in the picnic lunch of complete strangers at the bottom, and lived to tell the story. He graduated from Fort Hunt High School in 1973 and went on to Virginia Tech, where he graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 1977. He began a career at Hewlett-Packard in the order processing department, progressing through various positions into sales. He sold HP computers to agencies including the Air Force. In 1989 he was named a member of Hewlett-Packard’s President’s Club, an honor recognizing HP’s top 100 salespeople worldwide.
A medical crisis gradually changed the course of his life. A melanoma on his leg metastasized to multiple sites in his body, including the brain, in 1988. His condition was assessed as terminal and he was given massive radiation to the brain, and chemotherapy, in a desperate attempt to give him a few more months of life.
Amazingly, through some combination of courage, dogged determination, positive attitude, stubborn obstinacy and simple obliviousness, he survived another 35 years.
At midlife he changed careers, leaving Hewlett-Packard for a masters degree program in Social Work at Catholic University. Following his graduation in 2002, he worked as a hospice social worker for Capital Hospice (now Capital Caring). In 2007 he took a position as a hospital social worker at Georgetown University Hospital, where he covered the emergency room and two other floors. However, he began to develop increasingly severe cognitive and motor difficulties, diagnosed as long term side effects from the brain radiation 20 years earlier. He had to retire from working in late 2012, but found meaning through volunteering at Joseph’s House and working out at the gym.
He was an avid hiker, a body surfer and a proficient downhill skier and water skier. Ever the comic, he loved making people laugh. A devoted music fan, he had encyclopedic knowledge of rock history. His rock heroes included Neil Young, John Lennon, Jethro Tull, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat, and Talking Heads. His relationship with his future wife Carol Cavanaugh was cemented on their third date, to a Rolling Stones concert. The two married in 2004. While his goal of hiking all the national parks had to go unfulfilled due to his illness, the two of them could often be found on Metro en route to fine dining, a concert or a movie, making faces at each other like middle-schoolers. They travelled frequently. Their last major trip was to Hawaii in 2019, for a musical retreat with pianist Peter Kater.
His marriages to Betty Brewer and Elizabeth Thomas ended in divorce. Besides his wife Carol Cavanaugh, he leaves behind two brothers, Douglas Gravatte and Craig Gravatte of Chesterfield Mo., five nieces and a nephew. His parents Jim and Anna Gravatte preceded him in death. His wife expresses deep appreciation to his caregivers Josefina Ducusin, Abdulai Kallon and Usif Bangura, who valiantly coped with his adamantly independent streak. A memorial service will take place at a future date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Joseph’s House, josephshouse.org