Artist Critt Graham, 69: his Lilburn firm specialized in designing annual reports

Artist Critt Graham and his wife launched a graphic design firm from the unlikeliest of places: the laundry room of their Lilburn home.

“We call it humble but clean beginnings,” said Deborah Pinals of the startup of Critt Graham + Associates in 1979.

Mr. Graham built the business by tapping into the virtually untapped market of annual reports, said Ms. Pinals, who has worked for the firm for 27 of its 30 years.

Starting out with Coca-Cola and Goodyear, the firm would go on to develop, design and produce annual reports for dozens of other big-name companies, including Home Depot, Proctor & Gamble, Compaq, Royal Caribbean Cruises, SunTrust Banks and UPS.

“He knew, by law, these companies had to produce annual reports,” said Ms. Pinals, now vice president and director of marketing. “These were big budgets, so it was a lucrative way to get started.”

Critt Gerald Graham Sr., 69, of Lilburn died Saturday of heart failure at home. Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. today in Snellville at Tom M. Wages Funeral Home, which is in charge of arrangements.

Born in Glencoe, Okla., Mr. Graham always had a love for art. A graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley, Calif., Mr. Graham was an avid illustrator, sculptor, photographer and painter. In fact, he was painting when he died.

At the office, Mr. Graham was tall in stature, but was known for his gentle, fun-loving presence. He whistled — literally — while he worked. He often cracked jokes or shared philosophical sayings. Both were coined Crittisms.

On the funny side, “Wheel of Fortune” became “Wheel of the Unfortunate.” A restaurant serving a less-than-savory meal became an “American Blandstand.”

Philosophical expressions included “Different isn’t always better, but better is always different” and “Commitment is a promise. Integrity is a principle.”

Rob Kennedy, a longtime friend and former colleague, said he’ll remember Mr. Graham’s “piercing wit.”

Mr. Kennedy worked for Coca-Cola Co. when Mr. Graham’s firm was producing the bottler’s annual report. The two flew around the world while working with photographers and printers.

A number of times during the in-flight meal service, Mr. Graham would whip out a pen and draw a likeness of a fly on his bread roll. Then he would summon a flight attendant.

“He’d point to the airline roll, as he’d call it, and say, ‘You expect me to eat this?’” Mr. Kennedy said. “It was just good for a laugh.”

“Critt Graham was really good at never having a bad time,” he said. “Every day was a rodeo.”

Mr. Graham’s legacy will be in building a family-run company based on long-lasting client relationships, Ms. Pinals said.

“Seventy percent of our business we’ve had for over a decade,” she said. “I think a lot of that was due to his powerful relationships and his integrity in business.”

Wife Diane and daughter Kari currently run the company, which now specializes in corporate, investor, marketing and brand communications. The firm has 20 employees with locations in Atlanta and Boston.

In addition to Diane and Kari, survivors include son Critt Graham Jr. of Doraville; sister Carolyn Elliott of Sacramento; brothers David Graham of Ventura, Calif., and Jack Graham of San Luis Obispo, Calif.