Frances Bray: Missionary, librarian, Pilgrim

Missionary, librarian, Pilgrim

Frances Bray, a longtime Pilgrim Place resident, died on January 23, 2013. She was 97.

Mrs. Bray was born Frances Norine Hutchison on December 13, 1915 in Haverstraw, New York. Her father was a theological student and went on to serve as a Methodist minister. She had 3 siblings, an older brother Clyde Jr., a younger brother Dwight and a younger sister Betty Lou.

The family moved about central Ohio in Mrs. Bray’s youth. In her senior year of high school, she won a chemistry scholarship for $60, which helped pay for her first year at Ohio State University, from which she graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in September of 1936. She then entered Oberlin Graduate School of Theology, and in 1937 earned a master’s degree in religious education. Her master’s thesis was on the need for more women’s emphasis and female role models in the Sunday school curriculum for high school girls.  

In 1939, Mrs. Bray attended the First World Christian Youth Conference in Amsterdam, Holland. During this trip, she cycled in England and Europe, returning to the United States just 2 days before World War II was declared.

In 1942, she graduated from Western Reserve University with a degree in library science and began work as the librarian of the National Training School for Christian Workers in Kansas City, Missouri. During this time, she received a local pastor’s license at the Grand Avenue Temple Methodist Church.  

Through a mutual friend, she was introduced to William Davenport Bray, who was in training to be an Army chaplain. After a short courtship, they were married in Kansas City. When asked by his future wife how he could be so sure she was the right one in such a short time, Mr. Bray responded, “You only have to see Crater Lake once to know you like it.” Thus began a relationship and partnership that lasted 59 years.

The couple had a brief honeymoon at the Oregon Annual Conference before Mr. Bray was deployed to Saipan and Iwo Jima for 22 months. When he returned, they moved to St. Helens, Oregon, where he was appointed minister. In 1952, the Brays volunteered to be missionaries with the Methodist Church and sailed for Japan, launching a 28-year career and life dedicated to service in Japan.

While Mr. Bray taught theology at Kwansei Gakuin University, Mrs. Bray taught English Bible classes, gave chapel talks and taught English at Seiwa College, all while raising their 3 children. Together, they started 2 churches that are thriving today.

The Brays are remembered to this day by their many Japanese students and friends, as teachers and as friends who always opened their home to others. Among other activities, they served as foster parents for several young Japanese children in the process of being adopted by American families.

Mrs. Bray returned to her first love, library work, when the Kwansei Gakuin University library needed assistance in publishing a catalog of their English titles. The university quickly realized she had valuable skills and enlisted her to do research on the founder of the university, Bishop Walter Lambuth. Her extensive research entailed visiting China and many archives in the United States, culminating in her presentation of the Founder’s Day Lecture on the occasion of the 90th anniversary celebration of the university.  

In 1980, Mr. and Mrs. Bray retired from their work in Japan and returned to the family home in Medford, Oregon. In 1982, they moved to Claremont and became Pilgrims at Pilgrim Place. During their retirement, they often traveled back to Japan and to other places around the world, visiting friends they made over the years. In 2005, Kwansei Gakuin invited Mrs. Bray back to Japan to give a talk at the 150th anniversary of the founder Bishop Lambuth.  

The Brays loved living at Pilgrim Place, making new friends and maintaining relationships developed over years in Japan. Mrs. Bray enjoyed participating in the annual Pilgrim Festival, volunteering for years with the other aficionados of stamp collecting, one of her favorite hobbies.

Mrs. Bray was passionate about communicating and reaching out to friends. When email became available, she switched from pen and paper to computer with ease. She learned all the tricks of looking up people and took great delight in finding long-lost friends and resuming contact. She was also reputedly one of the oldest active Facebook participants.  

Mrs. Bray is survived by her son, Jim, of Santa Rosa, California; by her daughter, Maggie, of Albany, Oregon; by her son, Tom, of Wickenburg, Arizona; by 6 grandchildren and by 9 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service in Mrs. Bray’s honor will be held on February 10, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. in Decker Hall at Pilgrim Place, located at 625 Mayflower Road in Claremont. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Frances Bray’s name to the Pilgrim Place Residents’ Health and Support Program (RHSP) fund, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, CA 91711.



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