Jim Gray was remembered as a gregarious person who enjoyed good times with his friends and family members, and as a person who dedicated more than a decade to the service of his community, at a memorial service that was held in his honor.
Gray, 76, a former Republican township committeeman and mayor of Manalapan, died unexpectedly on July 24. He was living in Point Pleasant at the time of his passing and had been battling cancer.
On the morning of Aug. 3, more than 200 people packed the main meeting room at the Manalapan municipal building for Gray’s memorial service.
The Rev. Dr. Hugh A. MacKenzie officiated the service, which included remarks by Gray’s friend George McCann, his sons, Jay and Tim, his young grandson, Thomas, and his wife of 54 years, Janet.
At times the audience members were laughing out loud as the speakers recounted stories about Gray, who served on the Township Committee from 1984 through 1998. He served as mayor in 1985, 1988, 1992, 1995 and 1998, and as deputy mayor in 1990, 1991 and 1994.
Gray resided in Manalapan for more than 50 years, where he and Janet raised their three sons. Their middle son, Chris, 32, a bond trader with Cantor Fitzgerald, died in the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
In his remarks, McCann, who lost his brother, firefighter Thomas J. McCann, at the World Trade Center, called Jim Gray “a man who became my brother.”
“As we would go around Manalapan, he was still being referred to as the mayor. This is a man who hasn’t served (in office) in 20 years,” McCann said to laughter from the audience. “Jim was always there to help the community.”
Of their travels in Europe and the fun times they shared, McCann said, “We were never arrested, but we sure came close.”
Tim Gray said of his father, “He was an enormous presence in my life and in the lives of so many others. You could never get away with just a hello and a goodbye from him.”
Tim said his father was battling cancer and said he adored his grandchildren, Thomas and Charlotte.
“He was a great dad,” Tim said in one of the service’s few solemn moments. “I’ll see you and Chris again someday.”
Jay Gray called his father’s life “extraordinary.”
Janet Gray was the final speaker and said, “This is a tough day for the Gray family, but it means so much to see so many people here. Jim worked his heart and soul for this town, but he was always home for dinner. I thank God for the good life we had, with one tragedy.”
Speaking to her two sons, to her daughter-in-law, Anabelle, and to her grandchildren, Janet said, “Jim Gray will always be the wind beneath our feet.”
The one-hour service will be remembered not for the tears, but for the good memories of a man who was deeply involved in his community. Seeing town hall filled with current and former public officials, friends and neighbors was a fitting and appropriate tribute to Gray.
I knew Jim Gray for 35 years, covering him as a member of the Township Committee and in recent years seeing him at meetings when he was not an elected official, but was still a resident who was interested in what was taking place in his community.
He always asked how my son, Nate, was doing in high school, and later at Penn State. I think it would be most fitting to say Jim Gray was a people person.
Following Chris’ passing, the Chris Gray Memorial Scholarship was created in his honor at West Virginia University, where Chris played quarterback for the Mountaineers from 1988-91. A golf tournament was held in conjunction with the creation of the scholarship.
At that time, Jim Gray came to the News Transcript office and presented me with a baseball cap that has the West Virginia logo on the front and Chris’ No. 16 on the back. It was a gesture that moved me beyond words. I treasure that gift and will now think of the former mayor and his son when I wear it.
Gray’s commitment to the victims of the terrorist attack was evident in his membership on the Monmouth County 9/11 Memorial Committee and his service as vice chairman of the New Jersey State 9/11 Committee.
Mark Rosman is the managing editor of the News Transcript. He may be reached at email@example.com