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Mai Gray, champion of justice, dies at 88


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.
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 white counterparts.

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 are today.”

Longtime educator

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 Assembly.
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 Assembly.
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Education was a priority in the Gray household.

“All 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 degrees.”

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 Ministries.

“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 determination.

“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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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