In Memoriam: Anne Wold Graham

SITE’s co-founder and first president passes away peacefully at her home in Amelia Island

News arrived last week via Patrick Sullivan (SITE President 2009), of the passing of SITE’s dear friend and co-founder, Anne Wold Graham. That Anne should depart on her final journey as SITE’s golden jubilee draws to a close is somewhat serendipitous.

Ongoing illness took Anne out of circulation for some years, and she missed our 50th anniversary celebrations, although her spirit was tangibly present in February 2023 at Global Conference in New York City in the stories we told and the pictures we shared.

Anne was a co-founder of SITE and our first President, serving two terms in 1973 and 1974. The idea to form an association dedicated to this new, emerging industry came when Anne and her co-founders (Bob Guerriero, CITE, Chris Perks, Jim McNabb amongst others) were part of the advisory board of the Incentive Travel & Meetings Exhibition - the famed and storied IT&ME that took place in Chicago.

Anne explained: “An idea took root: IT&ME was the major motivation show in the USA with travel booths scattered among the premium and merchandise booths. It was at IT&ME in the fall of 1972 that a few foresighted, highly colorful and dedicated individuals, whose commitment to our industry was undeniable, realized the need to establish an organization that recognized the business value of using travel to produce business results”.

Initially working in the DMO sector as an employee of the Irish Tourist Board (or Bord Fáilte Eireann, as it was officially known), Anne’s assumption of the leader’s role at SITE coincided with her entrepreneurial move to the private sector and the foundation of her agency Gallagher Wold. She recalled: “The first months of SITE’s formation were fraught with moments of heartbreak and humor. There was no office, staff, or operating budget. The founding members of SITE were dedicated volunteers made up of individual, outspoken, ambitious, professionals who shared a common vision. Those first meetings operated without protocol as passionate leaders debated to ensure that SITE stood for the right principles. After nine months, the definition of incentive travel and the by-laws launched, and a membership campaign was adopted.”

Anne’s agency, Gallagher Wold, won 10 crystal awards, testimony to her creative dedication to the science and art of incentive travel. She was a true pioneer of our industry dreaming up the prototypes and blueprints that, over the years, defined incentive travel as an extraordinary travel experience awarded on the achievement of extraordinary organisational goals. If it wasn’t a truly astonishing, transformational experience for qualifiers, then, pure and simple, for Anne, it wasn’t incentive travel. Fittingly, Anne was the first, and one of only three, recipients of SITE’s Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to her in 1995 by the late Paul Flackett, (SITE President, 1995)

Later in life Anne met and married the late Tony Graham, a Dublin based impresario, and they became quite the creative partnership, operating awarding winning programs all over the world and eventually with Graeme Dowie, opening TGA (Tony Graham & Associates), an Irish DMC, that continued the duo’s winning streak. They finally retired in 2010, splitting their time between Omeath, Ireland and Amelia Island, Florida until Tony’s death in 2017 when Anne moved permanently to Amelia Island. Even in the last couple of years, and suffering from dementia, Anne would regale her carers with stories of high adventure in stunning destinations.

Despite her physical absence, Anne’s presence was gentle on our minds throughout the celebrations of SITE’s jubilee. Many of us recalled her creativity, her keen vision, her strength of character, her sense of fun. And as our society – with both lower and upper case “S” – opens up more and more to diversity, equity and inclusion, SITE should also be proud that our very first leader, Anne Wold Graham, was a powerful, high achieving, entrepreneurial woman, a model for all female leadership to follow. Jim Dittman, SITE President (1987) put it perfectly:

“It is a mark of Anne’s greatness that she was elected (the first) president of SITE by a group of men a half century ago. A really good person who stood out then and stands out in my mind even today”.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis / may her sweet soul be at God’s right hand side.

(Special thanks to Fay Beauchine, Patrick Sullivan and Graeme Dowie for assistance with this tribute)


Written by

SITE Staff


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