Two Men I’ll Remember

By Stacey Moncrieff, Editor in Chief, REALTOR® Magazine

Often, we aren’t aware of the people who are positively influencing our life and work. In the past two days, I learned of the death of two such people: Mal Sherman of Baltimore and Thomas J. Graff of Oakland, Calif.

Sherman was a real estate broker, who—in the early 1960s—took the moral high ground and become a vocal supporter of equal housing opportunity. This despite his attorney’s warning that he was committing “business suicide.” The attorney was wrong; Sherman remained a successful broker and was asked to head President John F. Kennedy’s National Committee for Equal Opportunity in Housing. I learned his story thanks to Damian Da Costa, who profiled Sherman for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ centennial book.

On Friday, I received an e-mail from Mary Antoun, CEO of the Maryland Association of REALTORS®, saying: “Our beloved Mal Sherman died peacefully Thursday evening. He told me just before he died that he was ‘coming to the end of a beautiful life.'” How true.

It was my great honor to sit next to Sherman at NAR’s centennial gala in May 2008. He was humble and grateful for the opportunities he’d been afforded as a real estate broker.  Antoun described him as a “courtly gentleman,” and I can’t think of a better description.

This morning, then, I was reading The New York Times and came upon the obituary of Thomas J. Graff, an expert on water use. I didn’t know Graff, but according to the story, he was an environmentalist who was a pioneer in promoting “financial incentives for environmentally friendly behavior.” It reminded me of the market-based approach to environmental and affordability challenges that NAR and other business organizations have backed over the years.

Both Sherman and Graff understood their duty to repair the world. Yet both did so in a way that acknowledged the importance of a healthy business environment. Their leadership is worth remembering as the industry faces new challenges in the years ahead.

Stacey Moncrieff

Stacey is vice president of business-to-business communications for the National Association of REALTORS®, overseeing the association's key communications with NAR members and REALTOR® association executives.

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  1. Mary C Antoun

    Stacy, you’ve described Mal so well. However, his attorney was correct. Mal’s large successful brokerage firm was forced to close as a result of his stand on what was then called “open housing,” because other brokers refused to coop with him or his agents and refused to show his listings. He knew the risk was real–he discussed it with his wife Mimi before deciding to take a stand, and she fully concurred with the decision.

    Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) once described Mal as “a man who marched in the streets of Baltimore for fair housing when that was a dangerous thing to do.”

    He subsequently affiliated with another broker and worked with other luminaries in the industry, including Jim Rouse.

  2. Mary, wow! That’s a part of the story that I didn’t get from Damian or from my own discussions with Mal Sherman. Perhaps it was his way to downplay the personal sacrifice he made. Thanks for illuminating us on what a truly courageous stand he took.