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ASAE CEO John Graham, longtime association champion, dies of cancer

Graham led the association for association executives since 2003. Susan Robertson will continue as interim CEO, ASAE announced


Jan. 13, 2020
By William Ehart

John Graham, longtime CEO of ASAE and a widely respected figure among his association executive peers and members, has died after a battle with cancer, ASAE announced Monday.

“While no words can adequately express our deep sorrow at losing our leader, the ASAE team is profoundly grateful for the opportunity to know and work with John,” the statement said. “Graham was a transformative leader for ASAE and a mentor to many in the association community.”

Graham led the association for association executives from 2003 through June 2019, when the group announced he was stepping back because of the cancer diagnosis. The type of cancer has not been made public.

The Graham family will hold a private service in Pennsylvania followed by a memorial service in Washington, D.C.  ASAE said that Susan Robertson, who stepped in as interim CEO at that time, would continue in the role.

Graham used his position to press for diversity and inclusion and also used the convening power of his organization—most notably through the ASAE Annual Meeting—and the association community to disincentivize discriminatory laws in various states and cities in the past several years.

ASAE adopted the position in 2016 that it would not hold meetings in places that discriminate based on factors such as race, gender and sexual orientation.

He reiterated the position from the main stage at ASAE’s 2017 annual meeting in Toronto, on the heels of racial violence in Charlottesville, Va.

“Hate and intolerance have no place in this world, including the display of bigotry masked as political speech that we’ve all witnessed in Charlottesville this weekend,” he said.

“ASAE and associations are about bringing people together, and we remain firmly committed to providing a welcoming, inclusive home for all.”

CEO Update honored Graham as Professional Society CEO of the Year in 2014—the first year of the Association Leadership Awards—and he continued to serve on CEO Update’s selection panel until last year.

In the statement, ASAE said the organization “more than doubled its membership and developed a wealth of innovative products and services to benefit association professionals and their partners” during Graham’s tenure. ASAE reported revenue of $30 million in 2018. 

The statement also said: “Before ASAE, Graham served the American Diabetes Association in Alexandria, Va., for 24 years, the last 13 as chief executive officer. In his tenure as CEO, ADA quadrupled in size, from $50 million to $200 million in annual revenues and successfully moved from 53 independent, separately incorporated affiliate organizations to one nationwide organization with one staff, one budget and one plan. Before joining ADA, Graham served the Boy Scouts of America for nine years.

“In May 2015, he was recognized by the Boy Scouts of America as a Distinguished Eagle Scout. Graham served on the Association Committee of 100, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; as chairman of the Mobile Giving Foundation Board of Directors; on the Board of Directors of the Lambda Chi Alpha Foundation; and as President of the National Capital Area Council, Boy Scouts of America.”