A palpable wave of grief spread across campus today as word filtered through that John D. Gray [trustee 1961–2006] had died of cancer at the age of 93.
It's hard to convey the level of respect and affection for John and Betty Gray that generations of Reedies have held in their hearts.
"Reed probably wouldn't be in existence today if it were not for former trustee John Gray," said John Sheehy '82, author of Comrades of the Quest, the oral history of Reed that reveals how John and Betty Gray, together with Paul Bragdon [president 1971–82], Howard Vollum '36, Ed Cooley [trustee 1968–2001], and Dick Wollenberg [trustee 1962–2005] rescued Reed from the brink of financial abyss during the early '70s.
John and Betty have also become near-legendary figures on campus thanks to the Gray Fund, established in 1992, whose mission is to provide "stimulating cultural, social, and recreational programs of excellent quality." Over the years, the Gray Fund has made it possible for Reed students to have experiences to remember for the rest of their lives, from kayaking to hot-air balloon trips to rock climbing to watching the creation of Tibetan sand sculptures. In May, Reed celebrated 20 years of the Gray Fund with stilt-walkers, drums, parades, skits, and a massive concert at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall downtown, at which John was greeted by an ear-splitting standing ovation.
John came from humble beginnings. Born and raised in Ontario, Oregon, in 1919, he grew up fatherless during the Great Depression. As a teenager he worked as a farm laborer for $1 an hour. He graduated from Oregon State, served in World War II, returned home to marry Betty (his college sweetheart), went to Harvard Business School on the GI Bill, and then blazed a spectacular career as an entrepreneur, beginning at Oregon Saw Chain Corporation, where his first chair was a nail keg. He also developed John's Landing, the Salishan resort, Skamania Lodge, and the Sunriver Resort.
Along the way he supported dozens of philanthropic enterprises. In addition to Reed, John was involved with Oregon Health & Sciences University, REACH the Community Development Corporation, the 4-H Center at the Oregon state fairgrounds, the Community Transitional School, the Boy Scouts, and many others.
Announcing John's passage, President John Kroger wrote:
It is with profound sadness that I report that John Gray passed away yesterday . . . John and Betty were among a very small number of trustees and donors who provided exemplary moral and philanthropic leadership during the 1960s and '70s, a time of great financial uncertainty for the college. Their generosity with both time and money helped lay the foundation for the Reed we know and love today.
In addition to his great service to Reed, John was a well-known businessman and a pillar of Portland civic life, as well as a champion of education, the arts, and the environment. A true friend to Reed, John will be greatly missed.
We will share details of memorials for John as soon as we learn of them.