Turning 100: GEORGE GRAY JR. By Sheila Smith
Dorothy Jean. The first foster children were Tony, Nita, Karen, and Walter, who are all now deceased. Jim Bracken, 85, said he will never forget how the Grays took his brother into their home. “My brother Walter was 16 at the time when my mother died. Me and my wife took him in. But he didn’t want to listen. I was in the same Masonic lodge as George and told him that I was going to put my brother in foster care. George told me, ‘Don’t do that, we’ll take him.’” “Later on in life, my brother Walter came up to me and said how much he appreciated that I let him go stay with the Grays,” Bracken added. Bracken’s wife, Lillie, described George as always “one of the most honest and caring man.” Besides having a house full of children, Gray spent 35 years working at the United States Post Office before retiring and devoting his time to civic and charitable causes. Gray and his wife were active in the Cosmopolitan Club, East Denver YMCA ,and Parent Teachers Association (PTA) with the Denver Public Schools. Juanita became the first AfricanAmerican vice president of the Colorado PTA and first AfricanAmerican woman to run for the Denver Public School Board of Education. Gray served as his wife’s campaign manager. They often traveled together around the state as Juanita served as Colorado Centennial/Bi-Centennial Commissioner. His plate was also full being active with the Five Points Business Association, Wallace Simpson Post of the American Legion, and Prince Hall Rocky Mountain Lodge No. 1. Plus, he has been a faithful member at Scott United Methodist Church for the past 65 years. Gray’s passion for youth also pushed him to establish the Father and Son Communion Breakfast in 1959 at the Prince Hall Lodge. His idea of boys and men coming together for a southern-style breakfast with music, praise, and spiritual upliftment has turned into a popular annual event. Gray has been very instrumental in the American Legion sponsorship of boys going to Boys State competitions in Pueblo. He not only helped select boys from a list of applicants, but took care of all their arrangements and transportation needs.
George Gray Jr.
aving a three-day birthday party is allowed when you’re turning 100 years old. George Gray Jr. certainly did. The well-known Denverite officially joined the elite centenarian club, as family members and friends from Denver and out-of-state helped him celebrate. His 100th birthday was even more special since doctors told Gray’s family three years ago that he wouldn’t survive the two surgeries to replace a hip after falling in his home. He may now be a little slower getting around, relying on a walker and wheelchair, but his sheer will has kept him going. “Whatever kept him alive these 100 years is what got him through those times in the hospital,” said his daughter-in-law, Janice Gray, who remembers her father-in-law sprawled out on the living room floor of his house after lying there a few days before being found. “The doctors said he wouldn’t make it. So it’s remarkable to see him now so full of life,” she said with tears in her eyes. Since then, Gray hasn’t missed a beat. He began celebrating on his actual birthday, Wednesday, Oct. 5, by receiving the VIP treatment at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. His party continued on Friday, Oct. 7 with a feast at Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant on Colfax. By Sunday, Oct. 9, the party moved to The Retired Enlisted Association Chapter 3 building, off Dayton Street and Colfax Avenue. Masonic lodge brothers, veterans, family, and friends
Photos by George “Skip” Gray III
surrounded Gray and sang happy birthday to him. “I love this thing called livin’. And I try to do a little bit of it every day,” Gray said with that unforgettable smile. “I just keep on keepin’ on.”
A Long Fruitful Life
Gray is his own testimony for how to live a long and full life. He was born in Hattiesburg, Miss. on Oct. 5, 1911. When he was a young boy, his family moved to Birmingham, Ala. He later attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., and is considered one of the oldest living Morehouse alumni today. During Gray’s college years, he met his future bride, Juanita Yvonne Ross. They had a Christmas morning wedding at Warren Methodist Church in Atlanta in 1938. Gray and Juanita moved to Johnston, Pa., where he worked for a short period at a steel mill before joining the Armed Forces. After Gray’s military duty ended, he and his wife relocated to Denver in 1944. Later, their son George “Skipper” Gray III was born. Skipper has two sons: local artist Sean Michael and local actor Aaron Christopher who is married with a son and two daughters. Gray and his wife also became foster parents to 23 children over two decades. The couple focused on being mentors to young African-American males, showering them with Christian love and making sure they received a quality education. A few of those foster children still residing in Denver are Jay, Melvin, Kevin, Archibong, Janelle, and
Denver Urban Spectrum — www.denverurbanspectrum.com – November 2011
Gray made it part of his agenda to make sure Juneteenth was a successful event every year. He worked tirelessly in making sure everyone benefitted from the celebration. He and his American Legion members also carried the American flag during the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday annual marades. Gray was more than deserving as one of Colorado’s unsung heroes to receive the “9 Who Cares” award. Tragedy struck Gray hard when Juanita was killed in a car accident on July 7, 1987. She was thrown from her car when it was hit by another car which ran a red light at an intersection. Though a very rough time for the entire family, Gray knew he had to endure, explaining, “I had to recognize the fact that life goes on.” “It was when the seat belt law in Colorado came into effect that same day. She had a doctor’s note as to why she wasn’t wearing a seat belt because she just had surgery on her hand. That seat belt would have saved her life,” said niece Greta Master, who lived with her aunt and uncle as a teenager. Family members continue to honor Juanita Gray’s work in the community. The Juanita Gray Community Service Awards are given out every year to kick off Black History Month. Gray has never missed an award ceremony, and the 25th anniversary of the awards will be celebrated in February 2012.
100 Years Of Memories
There are certain memories scattered throughout the years that still resonate strongly for Gray. “When I was in the Army in Pennsylvania, I was considered the world’s slowest eater. There would be three or four of us fellows who would go to chow before going to the picture show. One of them would tell the waiter, ‘Just go get him something to eat now.’ That’s because when they got ready to leave, they wanted me to be ready,” Gray recalled and laughed. While in college, Gray vividly remembers sitting in classes at Morehouse with Martin Luther King Sr. Describing King’s son who would grow up to become the civil rights leader, Gray said, “He was a little guy and all the students loved him.” “Martin Luther King Jr. was always with his dad. And his dad would bring him to anything that we had Continued on page 6
Published on Nov 1, 2011