Graham Newton-Small's Story

Graham Newton-Small would be the first to tell you he was theblack sheep of his family. While his siblings all went off to be lawyers and aneconomist—the dutiful children of a banker—Graham’s only burning ambition inlife was to travel. And so, at the age of 18, with a suitcase, a letter ofrecommendation to Lloyds Insurance and a hangover from his boisterous goodbyeparty, Graham boarded the Queen Mary bound from Sydney, Australia, for Londonin 1957. Lloyds lasted less than six months. Graham found much more entertainingemployment tending bar in Earl’s Court, or west Sydney, as it was called for itwas home to so many Aussies. He’d save up and travel the continent, returningwhen a replenishment of funds was needed. It was ahead of an anticipated trip toSweden that Graham answered an advertisement in the Times of London for government drivers. Little did he suspect thathe’d soon be shuttling around Winston Churchill on off days and weekends. The former British prime minister was chatty. “So, Graham, what are you doing withyour life?” he demanded.

Graham replied he had no ambitions, except to travel. The response perplexedChurchill. After some drives together, Churchill made Graham an offer: “Get acollege degree, and I’ll write you a recommendation.” This proved too tempting. Graham spent a year earning an economics certificate fromUniversity College London. It was by no means a degree, and Churchill looked atGraham with no small amount of amusement when Graham presented him with thecertificate. But, Churchill kept his word. “I’m going to recommend you for thisnew thing,” Graham recalls Churchill telling him, “the United Nations.” Grahamwould spend the next 38 years at the UN. Graham, or Gray as his family called him, was born in the Australian outbacktown of Inverell, near the border of Queensland in New South Wales. His father,Cecil, was a Westpac bank manager. His mother, Clarice, was a schoolteacher who hadher four children practice their penmanship every night. Graham was the secondchild after Geoff, followed by Trevor and Cecile, the only girl. Clarice dotedon Graham, who’d been born a “blue baby.” The doctor told her he wouldn’tsurvive past two, but he grew into a healthy young man. 

Geoff and Graham, just 18 months apart, were bundled off to boarding school atthe age of eight, a tradition in Australia where farms are so big childrencommute by plane. Geoff and Trevor became lawyers, and Cecile an economist.Graham preferred a pint to studying. The UN changed Graham. He found purpose in helping others. Suddenly,exploration held meaning. His first assignment was Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, wherehe helped restore the roads the Italians built during their ill-fated invasion.Then he worked on a geological survey of what would become modern day Darfur inthe Sudan. In Zambia, he helped develop their national parks for tourism. Itwas there, at age 35, that he met Sue Tang, a young Chinese Malay lawyer freshlyarrived for a job with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.The office tour he was assigned to give her turned into a tour of Lusaka, whichturned into dinner. By the end of dinner, Graham knew she was the one. Heproposed six months later during a sudden monsoon whilst on safari. He became the exotic uncle at family gatherings, often commanding the room withstories about places and peoples no one had ever heard of. Half a world away,his parents missed his Malawi wedding and the birth of his daughter, Jennifer,in New York. But, over the years, the field work took its toll. Graham sufferedfrom chronic malaria he contracted in Sudan. He increasingly sought desk jobsin New York and Asia. 

As his daughter got older, he planned road trips with her across his nativeAustralia, or Thailand, Namibia and Malaysia when he was living in thosecountries. When Jennifer was 12, the family bought a country home in the southof France, near some of Graham’s former colleagues. The threesome spent longweeks every summer ambling around Provence, in search of the perfect melon orparcel of lavender. Good food, good wine and good company are the joys of life,he would muse contentedly after a large meal under Van Gogh’s stars and cypressesstanding guard in the courtyard of their old farm house. A lifetime spent trying to make the world a better place, and living in some ofthe world’s worst places, left both him and Sue dispirited. So, in retirement, theywithdrew to lovely Naples, Florida. A place, he often marveled, where povertyand war didn’t exist. Jennifer lamented that no one talked about anything butgolf, bridge, the beach, grandchildren and tending their gardens, but he’d onlysmile. “It’s an art to appreciate the little things in life,” he’d say. He tookdelight in reading his daughter’s dispatches as a correspondent for TIMEmagazine from many of those far-flung places he’d sought out as a young man.“Adventure, I discovered,” he told his daughter, “was only meaningful when youhad someone to share it with. And later, the adventure falls away and the onlything that’s important is the one who’s been on the road with you. And you findthat if you can change one life, hers, or maybe two, yours, then that is a lifewell lived.”