May 11, 2010
Mai H. Gray, shown in this 2004 file photograph, died May 6 at St. Louis University Hospital.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
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Mai Hutson Gray spent her life turning the tables on racial segregation.
As a child growing up in Jackson, Tenn., she used the encouragement
of her mother and the teachers at her all-black school to learn as much
as she could to succeed.
As a Methodist, she and her husband, the Rev. C. Jarrett Gray Sr.,
helped build leadership within the church’s Central Jurisdiction,
created in 1939 to separate African-American congregations from their
As a first-year teacher, she basked in the “wonderful moment” in
1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation in schools with its
landmark “Brown v. Board of Education” decision.
As a member of United Methodist Women, she helped craft the
organization’s current Charter for Racial Justice and presided over the
1978 assembly at the Louisvlle, Ky., convention center where it was
adopted. The charter was adopted by the denomination two years later.
When the 2010 Women’s Assembly opened April 29 in St. Louis, Gray was there, just as she had been at every other assembly.
But she fell during the event, suffering a head injury, and died May
6, at the age of 88, in a St. Louis hospital. The date for a memorial
service has not been set.
Jon R. Gray, one of her sons, said she would not have wanted to miss
the assembly. “My mom was in a place she wanted to be with people she
wanted to be with,” he added.
Her love for United Methodist women “was apparent in all the ways
that she offered her leadership,” said Harriett Olson, the
organization’s top executive. “She really had a chance to shape who we
Gray spent some 40 years in public education, in both St. Louis and
Kansas City, where she resided. She was a graduate of Lane College in
Jackson; Gammon Theological Seminary, Atlanta; and Kansas City
University, now the University of Missouri in Kansas City.
Gray (second from right) joins other former Women's Division leaders on
stage during the April 30 worship at the 2010 United Methodist Women's
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Education was a priority in the Gray household.
of us knew that we had to go to college at a minimum,” Jon Gray said.
“We were encouraged and fortunately all of us were able to get advanced
The church also was a priority. Gray was a member of the 1971
committee of 24, her son said, that “mapped out the structure of United
Methodist Women” in the organizational transition for the new
denomination. In 1976, she became president of the organization’s
corporate body, the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global
“She gave leadership with dignity and professionalism,” said Ressie
Mae Bass, who was a Florida Conference officer at the time and later
joined the Women’s Division staff.
Gray and Theressa Hoover, then the Women’s Division’s top executive,
worked together as the first African-Americans in those positions.
Joyce Sohl, treasurer at the time, remembered Gray’s dignity and
“She knew how to deal with conflict,” Sohl said. “Her strong
commitment to anti-racism was essential when we were dealing with the
Charter for Racial Justice policies.”
Active in denomination
Gray also was active in other matters of the denomination and in the World Methodist Council.
As a delegate to the1980 United Methodist General Conference, the
denomination’s top legislative body, Gray and several others were part
of a delegation that went to see President Jimmy Carter about the
hostage crisis in Iran – the crisis credited with helping bring about
his defeat for re-election.
“She told a story about how he seemed so heavily burdened and how
they prayed (with him) before they left,” Jon Gray recalled. “The next
day was the news story about the failed rescue attempt.”
In Kansas City, she was a member of St. Andrew United Methodist
Church and active on the boards of civic and not-for-profit
organizations, including the United Methodist-related Kingswood
retirement center; Gillis Home, a residential facility for children,
and Goodwill Industries.
Gray and her husband, who died last July, were recognized in March
2009 for their contributions to Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas
City . Gray was a member of Saint Paul’s board of directors for more
than 25 years before retiring last year.
In addition to Jon Gray, an attorney, former judge and current
member of the United Methodist Judicial Council, she is survived by her
other son, the Rev. C. Jarrett Gray, Jr., a United Methodist elder; her
daughter, Dr. Frances Gray, a physician; four grandchildren and a
sister, Dr. Darlene H. Anderson.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.