Family members, friends, and former colleagues gathered Saturday morning, Sept. 1, to celebrate the life of John R. Gray – the principal of Barrington High School for 29 years who passed on last Tuesday.
The words used to describe Gray at the memorial service at St. James Lutheran Church in Barrington seemed endless.
Just a few: enthusiastic, influential, nurturing, encouraging, motivator, leader, always put his family first, good shepherd, a rock, honorable, great orator, fixture at sporting events, approachable, fun, famous belly laugh, team builder, like a father to all of us.
Hundreds of people filled the sanctuary to overflowing to remember Gray, including scores of his former teachers and staff members. Many gathered after the memorial service to share refreshments and even more memories.
Bob Tobias, a longtime friend, colleague, and golfing partner, described Gray as “an influential and nurturing educator and motivator” who “as a leader set the tone necessary to build a strong community of teachers and parents.”
Gray was an even better husband, father, and grandfather,” Tobias said. “His family always came first.”
“He was my rock,” said Tobias. “He was always ready to lend a hand in a time of need. He was truly my brother.”
Stephen Lenz and Catherine Lenz spoke on behalf of the faculty at the high school -- and for themselves.
Stephen said he might remember Gray best for a philosophy he lived by: “Think big but start small.”
“If you really want something to work,” he said, “you need to start small. It’s the little things in life that lead to greatness.”
Stephen referred to Gray’s legacy of high test scores for students, many championship athletes and the renovation of the high school. But to Gray’s colleagues, he said, keeping his office door open to them might have been even more important.
“He was not afraid to be himself as a boss,” said Catherine Lenz. “He was approachable and fun. And he was not afraid to show his emotions and shed a tear or two.”
But when he was angry,” she said, “you knew it. He was red and loud.”
Gray also had a great belly laugh, she said. “He was a great listener, too. You could go to him with problems and he gave you a shoulder to cry on.”
Gray’s teacher observations were legendary, she said. You could tell when he was done when his eyelids would start to get heavy and his eyes would glaze over. When that happened, she said, the teachers knew “we were doing just fine.”
John Gray Day – his final day at the high school in June of 2009 – showed the students’ respect for him. They all wore crisp white shirts or white T-shirts with his likeness on them, she said.
Stephen Lenz said he would ask you if you were going on vacation on the days you didn’t wear a tie.
Gray also was a huge sports fan and supporter who ran the RI Interscholastic League’s golf rules committee for years. He was inducted into the RIIL Hall of Fame several years ago.
“He loved to play and watch sports,” Lenz said. “He was a permanent fixture at all sporting events.”
Members of the football team filed into the choir loft behind the altar during the ceremony to show their respects from all athletes.
The Rev. Andrew Simon of St. James described a “principal as someone who in many ways is like a shepherd who walks and cares for his flock.”
“He was a good shepherd,” The Rev. Simon said, “who dedicated his life to his family first. What a good shepherd John was, especially to his grandchildren.”
“He was like a father to all of us,” said Stephen Lenz. “He certainly was to me.”