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Former state Sen. Ryan deGraffenried Jr. dies

HOOVER (AP) — Former state Sen. Ryan deGraffenried Jr. of Tuscaloosa, who carried on his family's tradition in Alabama politics, died Thursday night at a conference with his wife in Hoover. He was 56.

The cause of death was not immediately determined, but deGraffenried died of natural causes while at the Alabama Association of School Boards convention at the Wynfrey Hotel.

His wife, Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, is the group's executive secretary. She is a Danville native who formerly worked for Decatur city schools.

Ryan deGraffenried, a graduate of the University of Alabama and the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, represented the Tuscaloosa area in the state Senate from 1978-1994 and served in the Senate's top spot, president pro tem, from 1987-1994. The last 1 years of his term he served as the Senate's presiding officer when Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. moved up to governor following Gov. Guy Hunt's ethics conviction.

DeGraffenried made an unsuccessful race for lieutenant governor in 1994. After that, he returned to practicing law in Tuscaloosa and became a contract lobbyist.

Secretary of the Senate McDowell Lee said he had known deGraffenried practically his entire life because Lee and deGraffenried's father, Ryan deGraffenried Sr., were elected together to the Alabama House in 1954.

Ryan deGraffenried Sr. died in a plane crash in 1966 while campaigning for governor.

His son followed him into politics, becoming one of the finest statesmen and parliamentarians I have witnessed in my years as secretary of the Senate,'' Lee said.

Folsom said deGraffenried was not only a statesman in the Legislature, he played a critical role in helping Alabama land its first auto assembly plant.

He said deGraffenried accompanied him to Germany in 1993 to assure Mercedes-Benz officials that the Legislature would approve the economic package Folsom had promised the company if it would build a plant in Tuscaloosa County.

``He did a fantastic job making sure they knew we were committed to the effort,'' Folsom said.

Folsom said deGraffenried remained his friends through the years and helped him this year when he decided to run for lieutenant governor again.

A lifelong friend, former Business Council of Alabama President Bill O'Connor, said deGraffenried was shy for a politician, but that helped him be a succesful leader in the Senate.

``Ryan cared more about results than recognition. He brought people together when he served in the Legislature,'' O'Connor said.

Besides his wife, deGraffenried is survived by two children, William Ryan deGraffenried III and Frances Margaret deGraffenried, both of Tuscaloosa.

His funeral will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa. The family will receive friends after the funeral in the church's family life center.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the RISE Program, P.O. Box 870305, Tuscaloosa, Ala. 35487.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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