John Granaghan was a larger than life figure in the community, revered for his leadership and wit. His ability to communicate with people on all levels made him a man of influence, and he touched the lives of everyone he had ever met. Granaghan, a former manager of the Savannah River Plant, died Saturday morning in Ft. Worth, Texas, at the age of 83 from complications of advanced Parkinson’s disease.
Granaghan’s career with DuPont spanned 39 years, and his time as a DuPont manager at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Plant, a position he held from 1978-87, brought him to Aiken.
From a very early age, Granaghan possessed the leadership qualities that made an impact not only in his life but in the lives of others. Granaghan’s disciplined approach toward academics, athletics and outside activities set the tone for the rest of his life.
A strong family foundation also played a large role in helping to shape Granaghan’s life. A graduate of Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Granaghan went on to distinguish himself as an athlete where he earned honors as an All-State and All-South selection in football. He also achieved the rank of Eagle Scout during his time with the Boy Scouts.
As an incredibly focused individual who had a relentless drive to excel, his athletic achievements earned him a football scholarship to Auburn University, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. A man of devout Christian faith, Granaghan’s leadership skills began to manifest themselves early in life, and he used those same basic tenets as a foundation when taking on his first assignment with the Sabine River Works in Orange, Texas, in 1950. During that same year, he married his college sweetheart, Nancy Anne Thomason, whom he was married to for 62 years. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Green Boundary Club in Aiken surrounded by friends and family.
Granaghan demonstrated his patriotism by serving in the United States Army Corps of Engineers in Korea during the Korean War, and his leadership skills proved an invaluable resource in his officer’s reserve unit.
Following his service in the military, Granaghan’s association with DuPont took him on a journey that spanned nearly four decades, where he visited numerous locations nationwide, and he was involved in a number of groundbreaking projects.
Those projects included the opening of DuPont’s plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., the facility that developed the non-stick chemical for cookware, Teflon. He took on other assignments in positions of great responsibility in Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. During his time at the Savannah River Plant as plant manager, he oversaw nearly 15,000 employees and managed the plant until the effects of Parkinson’s disease forced his retirement.
His unique brand of humor, leadership skills, honesty, integrity and strength of character endeared Granaghan to his friends. Granaghan was involved in many civic and community organizations, and he left an indelible imprint everywhere he went. He served on multiple boards, was involved with the Republican Party campaigns in South Carolina, was the chairman for the 50th Anniversary Committee for the Savannah River Site, was selected as the USC Aiken Citizen of the Year, and he and his wife Nancy were also recognized by the S.C. General Assembly with a resolution for their many contributions to Aiken before they relocated to Texas in 2004 to be closer to their sons, who are both medical doctors.
“John took great pride in his leadership role with the DuPont company, as well as many organizations to which he belonged,” wrote Bob and Beth Newburn, friends of Granaghan, in an email. “This long list of organizations prompted several of his friends to refer to him as ‘Mr. MEMO,’ man of many organizations. His close friends and family used this moniker until he passed away.”
Granaghan was not one to sugarcoat anything, and his honest approach always let people know where he stood, said Pat Walke, who worked with Granaghan for several years and admired that quality about him.
“He was a very close friend,” said Walke. “He saw things straight, and he would tell you what he saw.”
Jim Kelley worked for Granaghan for six years as the general superintendent of employee relations at the Savannah River Plant and as the program manager of separations.
“John never called me Jim,” said Kelley, who saw Granaghan two years ago in August and as recently as Oct. 11. “He would always call me Kelley.”
Granaghan was under a tremendous amount of pressure to make sure the Savannah River Plant ran seamlessly. The site was on 10 square miles, had five reactors, a full fabrication plant, a tritium plant and two separation plants, said Kelley. Granaghan’s management style and ability to interact with the plant’s employees made the facility run smoothly, said Kelley.
When the security dome was raised at the plant in the 1980s, Granaghan was faced with the unenviable task of making sure he kept a firm grasp of every last detail of every process, project and incident. He did so by holding a daily 1¹/2-hour staff meeting to review the incidents and determine what action needed to be taken.
“We always had to sit in with him, including those employees who had been involved in the incidents,” said Kelley. “The staff meetings were an effective way of manning the site. The last thing DuPont wanted to see was their name in The New York Times or Los Angeles Times. He had a great sense of humor; he loved to get out among the mechanics and operators. He had a good personal relationship with all of the people at the site.”
Kelley, along with Jim Felder, the Savannah River Plant’s public relations and public affairs manager, began collecting and writing down the humorous quips Granaghan would often impart during the staff meeting and referred to those witticisms as Granaghanisms.
Among the Granaghanisms that left a lasting impact included “Dilution is no solution to pollution,” “Every man sits on his own bottom,” “A closed mouth gathers no feet,” “Sometimes you meet people with the personality of wart hogs,” “It’s consistent but not uniform,” “He who eats my bread but does not sing my song, does not eat my bread for very long,” and, “He has the immediate grasp of the obvious.”
The Savannah River Plant had about 1,000 construction workers on site, said Kelley, and Granaghan’s Granaghanism about the plethora of workers was “Construction keeps house like pigs, and we’ve built some (pig) pens.”
Another time, safety groups came down from Washington, D.C., and Granaghan came up with this witty quip to describe their reaction to an issue, said Kelley.
“These people think the cure for rabies is to lock up the people and let the mad dogs run loose.”
Granaghan also loved cooking and possessed wonderful culinary talents. He was also an avid golfer and a member of the Palmetto Golf Club.