Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray Jr.

Published 12:00 pm Monday, July 18, 2016

Duncan Montgomery Gray Jr., seventh Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi and prophetic voice for racial justice and the reconciliation of all people, died Friday, July 15, 2016, at his home in Jackson after a brief illness. He was 89.

He was a devoted husband to Ruthie, his beloved wife of 63 years, a loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather, a caring and steadfast pastor to the congregations and Diocese he served, and a committed civic and community leader who sought to bridge divisions and bring people together.

He was noted for his courage in standing against racial segregation, injustice and violence while in seminary and when serving congregations in Cleveland, Rosedale, Oxford and Meridian in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet his pastoral care and outreached hand extended to everyone, including those who berated or threatened him, and he never became embittered or alienated from the people and state he loved.

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He lived his life with joy, kindness, gentleness and compassion, secure in the knowledge of God’s love for him and all creation. He looked for and found the good in everyone and never despaired at the human condition because of his belief in the redeeming power of that love.

A fourth generation Mississippian, he was born in Canton on Sept. 21, 1926, the son of the Rev. Duncan M. Gray Sr. and Isabel McCrady Gray.  He spent part of his childhood in Columbus, attended junior high and high school in Greenwood, and graduated from Jackson Central High School in 1944 after his father was elected the fifth Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi and his family moved to Jackson the year before. He played football in high school and developed a love of all sports as well as a lifelong affinity for the St. Louis Cardinals.

He graduated from Tulane University with a degree in electrical engineering and spent three years with the Westinghouse Corporation before entering seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1950.  He was ordained a deacon and priest by his father in 1953, and served as Vicar of Calvary Church, Cleveland, and Grace Church, Rosedale, until 1957, when he became Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford. It was in that calling that he provided prophetic leadership and Christian witness in the events surrounding the admission of James Meredith, the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi. It was also during this period that he served as the first president of the Mississippi Council on Human Relations, a biracial group that sought to help lead Mississippi out of segregation into more just social structures.

He accepted a call as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Meridian in 1965, where he served until his election as Bishop in 1974. While in Meridian he was instrumental in the formation of the Committee of Conscience, which helped rebuild African-American churches firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan, as well as serving in numerous other civic leadership roles.

He served as bishop for 19 years, retiring in 1993. His tenure was marked by significant change in the church, including the ordination of women to the priesthood, which he fully supported.

From 1991 to 1997 he served as Chancellor of the University of the South in Sewanee and later as interim chaplain and interim dean of the School of Theology.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth Miller Spivey Gray, who died in 2011. Survivors include four children, the Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray III (Kathy) of New Orleans; Anne Finley (Mack) of Adams, Tenn.; Lloyd Gray (Sally) of Meridian; and Catherine Clark (Shelton) of Nashville, Tenn.; 11 grandchildren, Tillman Finley (Jaclyn) of Alexandria, Va.; Ruth Knight of Denver, Colo.; Duncan Gray IV (Amber) of Oxford; the Rev. Peter Gray (Giulianna) of Greenwood; Tabitha Agany Ajak (John) of Ashburn, Va.; Lloyd Gray Jr. (Catherine) of Jackson; Mary Gray of Florence, Italy; Isabel Gray of Jackson; Shelton Clark Jr., Duncan Clark and Elliott Clark, all of Nashville, Tenn.; 10 great-grandchildren; sisters Ormond Caldwell of Chamblee, Ga., and Isabel Mills (Tommy) of Clinton; brother-in-law Lloyd G. Spivey Jr. (Ebbie) of Canton, and a host of nieces, nephews and cousins.

The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 19, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson, with burial following in Canton Cemetery. Visitation will be Monday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Tuesday from noon until 2 p.m. in the St. Andrew’s parish hall.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to one of the following: Duncan M. Gray Camp and Conference Center, the School of Theology at the University of the South, or the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

The family also wishes to express its special thanks to the congregation and clergy of St. James Episcopal Church and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral for their attentive pastoral care to Bishop Gray in recent years, and heartfelt appreciation to his devoted and faithful caregiver and friend, Michelle Greenwood

Sebrell Funeral Home in Ridgeland is assisting the family with arrangements.