In a Miami metropolitan area inextricably linked to the sun, DeAnne Connolly Graham seemed to embody that star — a ubiquitous presence, bringing warmth to those around her, whether at large events or one-on-one.
And, she wanted to make sure that, to paraphrase the band Parliament, everybody had a little light under the sun. In addition to fighting for a place at important business tables for minorities, women and the LGBTQ community, one of Graham’s freelance jobs was scouting models of various ages and sizes for OMG! modeling academy. Graham herself started shooting commercials in 2021 and modeled for skincare product advertising into her final months.
Graham burned brightly until Saturday morning, when she died after years of dealing with cancer. She was 66. She leaves behind two sisters, four children and seven grandchildren.
And, she leaves behind holes in several local organizations, including the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce Women’s Business Council (Chair), the Miami Beach Black Affairs Advisory Committee (Vice Chair), AYUDA Miami (Board chair), The Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade (Board member), Focus Miami (Board member) That’s in addition to her own business, ROI Media Consultants.
Graham referred to herself as a “professional connector” on her LinkedIn page and wrote “believing that collaboration creates more success than competition, I make strategic introductions and facilitate mutually beneficial alliances and business relationships.”
Circle of One Marketing CEO Suzan McDowell said, “DeAnne was always a light. Wherever she went, she brought her bright smile, good energy and warm spirit — and a camera, chronicling our lives. She will be truly missed.”
Graham’s death brought a social media shower of adoration, sadness and photos from a mass of people as eclectic and cosmopolitan as Miami likes to project itself. The woman who described herself on her LinkedIn page as a “professional connector” loved to start connecting people by bringing them together in front of a camera, sometimes with her.
”“Everyone felt like she was their best friend,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said. “Her generousness of spirit was so palpable. It wasn’t phony. There was no pretension.”
Gelber said as he saw Graham in hospice care on Thursday to give her a key to the city, “Even at that moment, she smiled, laughed, summoned jokes, was able to interact. She still was DeAnne.
“She really was a warrior.”
Miramar, magazines and Miami Beach
As much as she loved Miami and Miami Beach, devoted time to improving it and seemed omnipresent in the city and county, Graham wasn’t a resident. She lived in a Miramar home that she and husband Rodney Graham bought in 1996, five years before his death at age 33.
“She loved the hospitality industry and the business community,” Gelber said. “She probably felt like she had work to do with us as far as opening up to minorities and women. She wanted us to be the best version of our city.”
After working as an office manager in Chase Bank’s private banking division, in 1992, Graham began a 21-year run as the director of sales and marketing at Welcome and Bienvenidos tourism magazines. Many of Graham’s clients were in Miami Beach, where the South Beach area basked in supermodel photo shoots and compliments such as “coolest spot in the world.”
“So, I spent an awful lot of time there because of work,” Graham said in an April 19 interview for the Miami Beach Visual Memoirs Project. “As a result of that, I found that I wanted to get involved in organizations that were part of the tourism industry, and that was also on Miami Beach, and that included the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. Once I got engaged with the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, I fell in love.”
Graham didn’t let love blind her to gaps, however. When she saw the city had committees addressing affairs of various groups, but lacked a Black Affairs Committee, she brought that up to the movers and shakers in Miami Beach government. There is now a Black Affairs Committee.
Also, when Graham started embracing Miami Beach, the Black presence among the city’s shapers was minimal. Then again, it was only a generation past hotels that refused to accept Black guests and the infamous identification cards that Miami Beach service workers had to carry.
“I’m fortunate in that my background is mixed ethnically (parents from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands), so my family is very mixed coming from the Caribbean,” she said in the April interview. “So, I’m used to having diverse people in my sphere. So there wasn’t any type of strangeness to that, which, I think, helps. Sometimes, our own experiences, we project our own insecurities. Because I didn’t really feel that, I didn’t have any issues.”
“But, I do, especially now, really focus on minorities and women, and see how we can build a stronger presence at the chamber and in the city of Miami Beach.”
And, Graham felt optimistic about the future for the city because “I see a lot of young people not in the old way of thinking.”
Graham’s daughter, Janelle Graham, posted a poem Sunday morning that read in part:
“From my mother’s eyes
Miami’s culture and people are unmatched, drop top ride in the sunshine and moon glow on her to and from Broward.”
Correction: The original version of this story misstated Graham’s surviving siblings.