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Obituary: Rev. Barrie Gray

Husband, father, grandfather, minister and community leader
Rev. Barrie Gray died peacefully with members of his family and hospice support present in Claremont on May 17, after a lengthy health issue compounded by the emotional and physical impacts of pandemic isolation over the past year.

He was born in Schenectady, New York on July 19, 1933, to James Gray and Margaret (Barrie) Gray. He had the unique distinction of having no middle name, while being named in honor of his mother’s maiden name and his great-great uncle, James M. Barrie, author of “Peter Pan.”

After graduation from public schools in Schenectady, he entered Syracuse University’s College of Forestry, intent on becoming a forest ranger, but transitioned late in his freshman year to liberal arts, earning a bachelor’s degree in Bible and philosophy. He then chose Princeton Theological Seminary for his theological studies. It was during his time in Princeton that he would be set up on a blind date with Ann Louise Ritchey, a student at nearby Westminster Choir College, who was majoring in organ and piano studies.

Four months after their first date (and a couple of weeks after being ordained as a Presbyterian minister) Rev. Gray and Ms. Ritchey married and moved to the Houston suburb of Galena Park, Texas, where he accepted his first job as a minister, and his wife performed as an organist. They had their first child, David, while in Texas.

The family moved not long after to Gallup, New Mexico, for his first pastoral call. Similar opportunities would follow for Rev. Gray, who accepted pastoral staff positions at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church and Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri. The couple then moved to Mesa, Arizona, in 1970, with Rev. Gray accepting an interim position on the staff of University Presbyterian Church near Arizona State University. Rev. Gray resumed his pursuits of a doctorate in educational administration at ASU and the couple also welcomed another son, Glenn, and a daughter, Elizabeth.

Rev. Gray accepted a call to a new ministry opportunity at Community United Presbyterian Church in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, in 1974, where he and his wife would serve as senior pastor and organist for almost 20 years. Rev. Gray’s final pastoral position was as interim pastor of Horizon Presbyterian Church in Ahwatukee, Arizona, where he helped the small congregation grow from holding services in a school multipurpose room to building a sanctuary and education building through the mid-1990s.

Rev. and Mrs. Gray moved to Claremont in 2002, joining other retired clergy and missionaries at Pilgrim Place senior retirement community, where both resided until Mrs. Gray’s death in 2018.

Rev. Gray’s ministry and community support extended far beyond the congregations he served. While in Lake Havasu City, he was co-founder of Cooperative Ministry, a co-op counseling service, serving for a time as its director. He also co-founded Havasu Interagency, which brought under one roof many community services and co-founded and served as director for Hospice of Havasu, which celebrates its 40th year of providing hospice care services in that community next year.

Rev. Gray was also one of a handful of local officials, business owners and others in Lake Havasu City to lead a successful community effort to confront members of Synanon, a California-based cult that had moved members and business operations to the city. The combined efforts of this group of local leaders—and a refusal to bow to threats by cult members—led the cult to leave the city after a couple of years.

Rev. and Mrs. Gray also founded Clergy Exchange International, a short-term clergy exchange that at its peak was coordinating exchanges for ministers in 31 countries. It was through the efforts to grow this program that the couple were able to visit several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and England.

Prior travels included trips to France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, where they led a tour to view the Oberammergau Passion Play in 1990. They also traveled to China and Taiwan, during which Rev. Gray found the ability to connect with locals through the creation of hundreds of balloon animals he made and handed out to large groups on the Great Wall of China, in front of the Great Hall and other tourist sites during their travels.

Rev. Gray was also known for his work with stained glass, teaching the art to hundreds of students over the years and organizing church members to build stained glass windows for four churches in Arizona. He also taught stained class, lapidary and woodworking at Pilgrim Place, and built most of his family’s cabin and garage by himself over a span of 45 years.

Rev. Gray was also an active resident at Pilgrim Place, serving on a number of campus committees, participating in the aforementioned artistic efforts, leading the creation of a memorial garden for campus residents and working with fellow clergy widowers on the writing of a guide for navigating life after the loss of their spouse.

In addition to being a dedicated and loving husband to his wife of 59 years and a supportive father and grandfather, he was a willing friend and compassionate servant to those who needed support in the communities he called home.

He is survived by sons David (Sandy) of Phoenix and Glenn (Erin) of Chandler, Arizona; daughter Elizabeth of Chandler; brother Dr. James Gray of Pittsford, Vermont; sister Nancy (Gray) Gourlie of Willow Valley, Pennsylvania; several nieces and nephews; and grandchildren Jessica, Daniel, Allison, Parker, Cameron, Xander and Michaela.

A celebration of Rev. Gray’s life is currently being planned. Details will be communicated through community/church contacts in Claremont, Lake Havasu and Phoenix, once coordinated.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Rev. Gray’s name to one of three organizations: Hospice of Havasu at www.hospicehavasu.org/donate; VNA Hospice and Palliative Care of Southern California at https://vnasocal.org/donate-to-vna/; or the Pilgrim Place Resident Health and Support Program at https://www.pilgrimplace.org/giving.

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