Catherine Allen-Westby knew Graham Wheeler for more than 40 years. As a sister-in-law of the clever and witty curator of the Ewing Art Gallery at the Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook, she has many fond memories.
“He was sweet. He was a wonderful brother-in-law and he was very close to my husband,” she says.
Originally from Corner Brook, Wheeler left the west coast city to study commerce at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick during the ‘60s.
“He always said, however, he majored in Bridge,” she says with a laugh. “He had a lot of wonderful qualities. But to me, knowing him for 40 years, his best quality was his extreme sharp wit. He was brilliant that way.”
Wheeler married his sweetheart, Sandra Allen, in 1974, and soon moved to Grand Falls. They didn’t have children and he himself was an only child.
“Once his parents passed, our family was really his family,” Allen-Westby says.
Before moving to central Newfoundland, Wheeler worked for a law firm known as a Barry Wells Monahan in Corner Brook. In Grand Falls he stayed with law and worked with Dwyer Schwartz Locke and Goulding.
“Then he got involved in the cable business. When cable came to Newfoundland he was one of the owners here in Corner Brook,” Allen-Westby says.
In the late ‘80s, Wheeler purchased the art gallery at the Glynmill Inn.
“He sold mostly Newfoundland art. And he really promoted Newfoundland artists and the fine arts school here in Corner Brook,” she said.
One of those artists was Lloyd Pretty of Stephenville. Pretty says Wheeler was not only a business associate, he was also a good friend.
“Every time I went down there, I would have coffee with him, or lunch or something, from the very time we began 23 years ago. He was more than friends with us — he treated Daphne and myself so good over the years.”
Pretty says it was nothing for him to have a meal at the hotel and when he’d go to pay the bill it would already be paid, courtesy of Wheeler.
“How many times did he do that?,” Pretty asks rhetorically.
He said Wheeler would also pay him for his art, whether it sold or not.
“I know sometimes I must have owed him thousands of dollars. And he’d just wait for it to sell. Never once was I broke or anything, because he would always call me up and ask me how things were going. I’ll never forget that.”
He and Wheeler were in close contact at least three or four times a week.
“I’d tell him a joke or he’d tell me one. I don’t thing I ever made a trip to Corner Brook that I didn’t go down to the Ewing Gallery, whether I had to go there on business or not, I’d always drop in for a few minutes. I’m gonna miss that.”
Pretty said there were times that his wife would comment on a particular piece of artwork. “And then maybe a few weeks after, he’d have it wrapped up for her. He was like that, and he would only charge us the price he paid for it. Stuff like that, that’s the way he was.”
Peggy Dahams of Portland, Ore., wrote on the funeral home’s guestbook, “Coming home and going to the gallery at the Glynmill Inn was such a special treat as Graham went out of his way to make sure you got the big Welcome Home hug.”
Rob Joyce of New York City wrote: “Graham was a man among men and always kind to everyone he met in life. If only more people had his high level of social skills and warmth and kindness for fellow human beings. I will miss morning coffee with him at the Glynmill Inn the next time I visit home.”
Wheeler was also an outdoorsman who enjoyed going in the woods or moose hunting with a few of his close friends and was well known for his passion for current affairs and politics.
His sister-in-law says he was well known for his warm greetings.
“He was a terrifically friendly guy and once people got to know him he greeted them almost as if they were an employee of the hotel. Graham was a wonderful friend to everybody. I think he enjoyed being among the people.”
Wheeler was diagnosed with throat cancer in September 2011. He was treated but by June 2012 the cancer had returned and spread to his lungs.
“We stayed hopeful to the bitter end,” says Allen-Westby, “because we couldn’t stand the thought of losing him.”
Wheeler worked at the gallery right up until two days before he died on Dec. 20. He was 69.
With his death comes another significant loss, one that Pretty is having a hard time accepting. Wheeler’s family has decided to close the Ewing Gallery after 40 years in operation in the Glynmill Inn.
Pretty says that was another tough blow.
“That’s a double-whammy for me because I done well with Graham at the Ewing Gallery. He sold a lot of my work. I’m going to miss going in and sitting down and having a coffee with Graham. He was like a brother to me. He really was. He was a fine man, I can tell you that.”
A funeral for Graham Andrew Wheeler was held two days before Christmas.