Jean Grafton's life was enriched by surrounding herself with friends who loved a good laugh — and she enriched those around her with her caring nature, generosity and passion for solid friendships. She modeled love and acceptance, and she frequently told people she loved them and they were beautiful because “we all need to see the beauty everywhere,” she once said.
Mattie Jean Grafton, a former longtime Ocoee city clerk and lifelong Ocoee resident, died Sept. 24, 2023, in the same home on Seventh Street she was born in 92 years ago.
She was the sixth child of Joseph Michael and Mabel Flowers Arnett Grafton. She was an active student, performing as a cheerleader and on the Ocoee High School girls basketball team. She was named Miss Ocoee High School.
At the age of 10, Grafton was recruited to sing in her church choir — a gift from God, she always was told — and she continued to develop her singing skills and majored in music at Barry College. She would spend her entire life singing in choirs.
The inscription on her headstone reads, “There are other worlds to sing in.”
She loved to travel in any capacity, whether it was with a choir, for recreation or for her job.
Grafton served the city of Ocoee as the city clerk and Supervisor of Elections and as a certified public pension trustee for 30 years. Her sense of humor was an integral part of her personality. When she retired in 2004, her calling card read, “Certified public pension trustee, retired city clerk, experienced and fully qualified to listen to your complaints with a straight face — no laughing, yawning or smirking. Will also listen to your health problems, but I will look bored.”
After retiring, she could have lived comfortably on the beach or in the mountains, but she chose to go back home. Literally.
She eventually moved back into the childhood home her father built in 1926 and spent years renovating the house full of history and memories.
REMEMBERING A LIFE WELL LIVED
Memorial services for Grafton were held Sunday, Oct. 8, in the church in which Grafton grew up: Ocoee Christian Church, in downtown Ocoee.
Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson gave the eulogy.
“A wise person once said that everyone can point to a few extraordinary people who impacted their lives in some way,” he said. “When I look back on my life I see many faces, but a few stand out to me. This wonderful lady … Mattie Jean Grafton, is one of those people. I have no doubt as I stand here today, this same lady had the same effect on a lot of you.”
Johnson shared several stories and said she is the one who suggested he run for office after he visited city hall to make a complaint.
“It was amazing to be around Jean,” he said. “All of us were really Jean’s kids. She loved us and took care of us like we were her family.”
The Rev. Gail Davidson conducted the service. She and Grafton spent many hours playing Scrabble on the front porch. They never kept score, and the game was full of laughter, said Mary Branche, one of Grafton’s daughters.
“Gail had a real distinct, real big laugh, and I noticed the women Mom surrounded herself with, they all had a real big laugh,” Mary Branche said.
“I can’t help but imagine that today she’s sitting on God’s porch, laughing and talking,” Davidson said. “Jean was a saint who walked among us. … She treated people with the same dignity and respect, no matter who they were. … She made such an impact on her hometown; her heart beat to the rhythm of the city of Ocoee.”
“Everything she did she comes from love,” said her daughter, Susan Branche Poteet.
Several of Grafton’s family members spoke at the service, as well. Many of them expressed how loved she made them feel.
“Grace, beauty, love and kindness — that’s what I think of when I think of my grandmother,” one grandson said.
“I will be eternally grateful for not only having the privilege of know her but being related to her,” another relative said. “And the world’s a better place for the legacy she left it.”
“We feel so good about her legacy carrying on,” Mary Branche said.
At the service, seven of Grafton’s great-grandchildren rang the church bell — the same one Grafton rang as a child and her children rang when we were young.
GROWING UP WITH MOM
Mary Branche looks back on her childhood in amazement.
“She raised five kids by herself on a very limited child support as she got back on her feet,” she said. “I used to think that all moms sang good and cooked good and were loving.”
The household was always full of love, she said. As the family gathered to remember Grafton, so many stories were shared.
“We would be in our little twin bed, and she would take the sheet and snap it, and it would billow down like a cloud over us,” Mary Branche said. “We were all avid readers in storybooks. Now that I’ve had my kids and grandkids, I do not know how she did it — but she honored life and expressed love, and when you were in front of her you had her undivided attention. … Her gift was she was a strong listener.
“My siblings and I were talking about growing up and friends coming over, and they came over before dinner so they could eat with us,” Mary Branche said. “Mom always had a set table with a protein and two vegetables and a bread and a salad. She was just a home for kids who didn’t have that home experience.”
Grafton was preceded in death by her parents, siblings, and two of her sons, Michael Thomas Branche and Walter Patrick Branche.
In addition to her daughters, Grafton is survived by her son, Robert (Robb) Malcolm Branche (Val); son-in-law, Neal Poteet; seven grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.