Ellen Lavonia Graham
November 11, 1940 - January 8, 2024
Ellen Lavonia Graham passed away peacefully on January 8th, at the age of 83, in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Even in her final days, Lavonia always had a smile to share as she fought a valiant 60+ year battle against Juvenile Diabetes. Often characterized by her loving family and friends as “the strongest sick person they ever knew,” she was a pillar of strength and set an example for others to follow.
Born on November 11, 1940, to her parents, R. V. and Ada Pace Sloan, Lavonia was raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where she met and married John Nelson “Jackie” Graham shortly after high school. Jackie was in the Army, and they were stationed in Ft. Rucker, Alabama, until they returned to Bogalusa to raise their daughters, Susan Graham Adams (Johnny), Lori Graham Starks (Eugene), and Lisa Graham Barrack (Ben).
Together, Jackie and Lavonia ran Graham’s Café on Columbia Street in downtown Bogalusa, and from there, their love of cuisine and feeding others began. After closing the café, they continued to share their joy of cooking through a catering service they ran together. Beyond her culinary skills, Lavonia will always be remembered as the quintessential southern hostess. From hosting family weddings and bridal showers to throwing tea parties for her granddaughters with lace tablecloths and elegant cookies to the classic Christmas dinners at tables set under twinkling lights with her finest china, the Grahams never missed an opportunity to celebrate and serve the people they loved.
After Jackie’s passing in 2011, Lavonia moved to Money Hill in Abita Springs to be closer to family. From tennis practices and shopping trips to high school graduations, college dorm move-ins at Ole Miss, weekends in the Grove, and three of her granddaughter’s weddings, the move to Money Hill kept Lavonia at the center of it all. With these major milestones for her family in the books and her grandchildren establishing families of their own from Tennessee to Washington, D.C., and even Hawaii, Lavonia retired to the Bayous of Lafourche Parish in Raceland.
Especially after moving to Lafourche Parish, whether she was at a bustling crawfish boil or enjoying a quiet evening on her patio in Raceland, her daughters saw how the simplest pleasures in life brought the greatest joy to their mom. Known lovingly by her grandchildren as everything from Grandmommy to Boney, Gangie or “Gang” for short, she stayed tremendously connected to each of them and was very proud of their accomplishments. Ever the patriot, Lavonia, who was born on Veterans Day, loved to share that her grandson serves in the Air Force, and her granddaughter married a Marine. And while she was deep in Tiger territory, Lavonia remained loyal to her granddaughters’ Ole Miss Rebels and took every opportunity to share a “Hotty Toddy” with her neighbors on the bayou.
In her final years, Lavonia’s declining health was trumped by the pure joy of welcoming not just one or two but three great-grandchildren into the world. Upon learning that her third great-grand was expected, she famously declared, “Oh – that means I’ve got to live longer!” and so she did – living fully, enjoying her ever-growing family, and finally, spending her last Christmas knowing that her fourth great-grand, to be named Henry, was on the way.
Along with her three daughters, Lavonia will be missed dearly by her grandchildren, Colby Amacker (Andrea), Maggie Starks Oliver (Todd), Mary Beth Barrack Biddy (Blake), Kathy Lee Barrack Goodfellow (Thor), Darby Marie Starks, Holden Graham Amacker, and Julianna Graham Barrack, all of whom will ensure Lavonia’s great-grandchildren, Graham Benjamin Biddy, Natalie Elizabeth and Caroline Grace Goodfellow, will know how much she was loved. She will also be missed by her sister Janet Volentine in Homer, Louisiana; her extended family, George Graham (Roxanne) in Lafayette, Louisiana and Marie Graham Huguet (Jim) in Clearwater, Florida; her step-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
Preceded in death by her parents, her husband Jackie, and siblings Ralph Sloan, Robert Sloan, Flora Sloan Magee, and LaNell Sloan Gray, Lavonia’s wishes were for a private graveside family service where her late husband was laid to rest.
Even though her death was expected, and the family takes comfort in knowing she has been reunited with her husband, perfectly healed in heaven, they will miss her presence immensely and ask for your prayers as they continue to grieve the loss of her love, guidance, and support.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you honor the life of their stoic matriarch, Ellen Lavonia Graham, with a memorial donation to the American Diabetes Association or a church or charity of your choice.