Interview with Tom Graf, March 2, 2017

Collection: Georgia Disability Community Oral History Project

Dublin Core


Tom Graf reflects on his life work in providing change for those who suffer from mental disabilities. Graf describes his early life as a blue-collar worker, before his eventual change of path into providing care for the mentally disabled. Graf discusses the condition of Atlanta’s mental institutions after moving to Atlanta from Ohio in the early 1970s. Graf reflects on the steps he took to build up his non-profit, the Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities (AADD), and the parents and politicians who supported his mission. He acknowledges the change that resulted from AADD’s advocacy, including the passing of legislation and redevelopment of Georgia’s care for the mentally disabled.
Tom Graf was born in Lancaster, Ohio, where he attended Catholic school until high school. After high school, Graf worked a variety of jobs, including at an ice plant and in construction. After deciding to quite blue-collar work, Graf attended Ohio State University on a scholarship where he wrestled, played football, and majored in physical education. After college, Graf worked as a physical education teacher in a school that provided education for the mentally disabled. Graf eventually went back to Ohio State University to receive his masters in special education in 1962. From there, Graf became director of the Happy Hearts School for the mentally disabled, where he provided funding for Happy Hearts through bond issues, and eventually moved to Atlanta in 1965, where he joined the board of many schools that specialized in providing education for the mentally disabled. Later, Graf became the executive director of the Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities, where he implemented many policies with the goal of ensuring the proper treatment of those with mental disabilities.






Oral History Item Type Metadata



80 minutes


Tom Graf and Mark Crenshaw, “Interview with Tom Graf, March 2, 2017,” UGA Special Collections Libraries Oral Histories, accessed April 16, 2024,