The Manzanar Committee expresses its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Robert W. “Bob” Gracey, who passed away on Jan. 16 at the age of 94.
Gracey, the youngest of nine children, was born on Dec. 10, 1928, in Kearsarge, about five miles east of Independence, which is roughly eight miles north of Manzanar. His father ran the Southern Pacific Railroad station there until it closed in 1932.
Gracey’s father was then transferred to the Salt Lake line, and the family lived at stations between Reno, Nevada and Ogden, Utah until his father retired in 1939. That is when Gracey and two of his younger sisters returned to the Owens Valley to live in Independence with other members of the family.
Gracey worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) as a hydrographer, spending a lot of time checking on LADWP wells at Manzanar.
Gracey was elected in late 1992 to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, representing the Fourth District, which includes the Manzanar National Historic Site. Almost immediately after taking office, he dove, head-first, into work to establish and develop the site.
“After starting my time as Fourth District Supervisor in January 1993, my interest in Manzanar, and what my new job was all about, went into high gear,” Gracey said in a February 2016 interview. “Manzanar, to me, had a huge potential to be two things: Inyo County would have a new national park site to complement Death Valley National Park. This site, in my mind, would be a great economic boost to Southern Inyo, and it would help ease the pain created by the act of the federal government which created the ‘need’ for the camp.
“Congress passed the legislation to create the Manzanar National Historic Site in 1992. I took a great interest in it. I saw the potential, and I did everything within my power as a supervisor to promote it, further it, and get it on board, working with all parties.”
Two critical projects that Gracey played a key role in were the hazardous materials cleanup of the former Manzanar High School auditorium (now the Visitors Center), which had been used by Inyo County as a maintenance facility for decades, and the land exchange that would allow the Manzanar National Historic Site to be expanded from its original 500 acres to its current 814 acres.
Gracey took on a leading role regarding Manzanar on behalf of Inyo County, but not only because the site was in his district. He also understood the importance of the Manzanar National Historic Site on all levels. During his oral history, he said that the Manzanar National Historic Site was a “national treasure,” and a “tremendous asset to the Eastern Sierra.”
“The bottom line is that it recognizes and attempts to correct a terrible mistake that was made in our past history,” he said. “I hope it will educate a lot of people to the point that it can never happen again. It would be really tragic if something like this ever happened again. It would prove to me that the United States has got it head in the sand, that we’re not paying attention.”
“I first met Bob Gracey while I served on the Manzanar Advisory Commission from 1992 to 2002,” said Gann Matsuda of the Manzanar Committee. “Bob was a member of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors back then, and he attended all of our meetings, updating us on his work on the hazmat clean-up of the Manzanar High School auditorium building and the land exchange.
“I remember Bob always closing his remarks with encouraging words for us to keep up our hard work. He always ended his remarks by saying, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’ referring to the creation and development of the site.”
For his efforts on behalf of Manzanar, Gracey was the Manzanar Committee’s 2016 recipient of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award.
“Bob was an unsung hero,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “He didn’t want the spotlight, but what he did was critical to the creation and development of the Manzanar National Historic Site. We were pleased to be able to thank and honor him with the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award in 2016.
“On behalf of the Manzanar Committee, I want to extend our condolences and best wishes to Bob’s family and friends. He will be deeply missed.”