Detroit advocate, communications director Graham Davis dies at 33

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Graham Davis was a tireless advocate for Detroit with a warm demeanor and passion for political communications since childhood, relatives and friends say.

Davis, who joined the city administration last spring as its communications director, died Thursday of complications from colon cancer. He was 33. 

Rachel Frierson with her husband Graham Davis, who died of complications from cancer.

"We are heartbroken at the City of Detroit today," the city said in a statement Friday posted on Twitter. "Graham was not only a brilliant communicator and strategist, but the kindest, most generous and sharp-witted person any of us has ever known."

Davis built his career on political communications and public relations, serving as the state's first new-media director for Gov. Jennifer Granholm, establishing one of the first gubernatorial Twitter accounts and helping pioneer the use of social media in Michigan government.

"Graham Davis came into our orbit just as social media was beginning to take the world by storm," Granholm, who was governor from 2003 to 2011, said in a Friday statement. "As the ‘kid’ in our office Graham made us see the future and imagine possibilities all the while spreading joy to his coworkers and me. His passion and his spirit were infectious, and I am heartbroken that we’ve lost such a wonderful soul way too soon.”

In other roles, the Michigan State University graduate advised campaigns for state and local legislative races, governor and attorney general and the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell, his LinkedIn page notes.

Davis formerly worked for the public relations firm Truscott Rossman, where he served as digital media director and led its Detroit office. He also was digital director for Mayor Mike Duggan's 2017 re-election bid. 

To the Dingells, Davis was a steady friend to the family for more than a decade, said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. 

"He was such a wonderful person. He just cared about people," she told The News. "He was ready to go, never out of ideas. He was just a super person. John Dingell loved him and I loved him."

Duggan on Friday noted Davis had married his wife, Rachel Frierson, on Nov. 2. The couple went on their honeymoon, came back, and he had stomach pains, Duggan said. 

"He found out that it was a very aggressive form of colon cancer and fought it for four months without complaint," Duggan added. "I want Rachel and the Davis family to know how deeply he was loved. It just seems like we're going to be tested one way after another."

In a Facebook post Friday, Davis' wife said her husband did everything with a smile and "resolute positivity."

The couple, she wrote, had been together for 13 years and were married just short of five months. Beyond his family and bulldog Dingell, Davis' second love was Detroit, she said.

"He advocated for this town every moment of every day," his wife wrote. "A few weeks ago when he was admitted to the hospital, I told him about the great 911 response time when he went in and he couldn’t wait to get back in the office to tell his team."

Davis, his wife said, had aspirations from a young age to pursue a job in political communications. 

"Graham lived. He had a unbridled thirst for knowledge, and found joy exploring in what most others would look over," she added. "He did what we all should do — be there for others, find a passion and be yourself to the fullest. I ask you all, despite these terrible times, to never waste a moment to tell someone you love them. And please face the world the way Graham did with a huge smile and burning commitment to the community you love."

A GoFundMe page has been established for a Detroit scholarship fund in Davis' name to support a Detroit student with an interest in politics. As of Friday afternoon, it had raised more than $20,000. A celebration of life will be planned for early summer, the page notes. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in a Twitter post Friday, said Davis brought joy to the world.

"His wit, spirit, and commitment to public service made our state a better place," she wrote.

Davis is survived by his wife, Rachel; mother, Amy (Lynn), and brothers Arie (Jen) and Ian (Vidya). He is predeceased by his father, Curtis Davis. 

Sarah Rahal contributed.