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Peter Vance Gray

1928 - 2013 | Obituary Condolences
GALWAY - Peter V. Gray, 84, died peacefully Saturday, June 22, 2013, at his home at 111 Fay Lane, Galway, attended to by his wife, Dot, and his three daughters, Jenny, Margaret and Beth.
His death ended his eight-year travail with the degenerative brain disease CorticoBasal Degeneration (CBD), which was diagnosed at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in 2005. He kept a positive outlook on life with his belief that one must play the hand one is dealt.
Peter was a compassionate, curious, adventuresome, storytelling being who was a lover and investigator of all forms of life. He was born July 17, 1928, in Oak Park, Ill., to parents Leland M. Gray and Marie Louise Didion Gray. They lived most of his public school years in and near New York City.
As a young teenager, he was an enthusiastic student of vertebrate zoology and became a member of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. He maintained a small zoo at home, consisting of mostly amphibians and local reptiles, especially snakes collected on field trips. He and a friend were able to photograph and collect Anderson Tree frogs in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and bring them to the Staten Island Zoo, where he had a close relationship with their herpetologist. These were the first proof that this frog was a resident there. He often traded snakes with them as well.
After graduating from Patchogue High School, he attended Carlton College for two years. While there, he had a job he found particularly interesting and challenging. He was hired by the Veterans Administration to tutor a blind war veteran in a course in genetics and organic evolution. The problem of helping a blind person to visualize a course presented largely with the aid of charts and diagrams required a major revision of the usual presentation method. Few incidents in his life gave him greater satisfaction than the success this student received in this course.
Forced to leave Carlton due to family illness and lack of funds, Peter enlisted in the Navy and was trained in the field of airborne electronics and then chose duty at the Electronic Test Division of the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent, Md. He spent two years working on the testing and evaluation of electronic anti-submarine devices and methods and then became an education petty officer, lecturing on basic electronics, test instruments and applied algebra while also taking courses in radar and ordinance systems.
His experiences resulted in shifting his interests from the biological to the physical and mathematical sciences. His Carlton College courses and Navy experiences enabled him to be hired in 1954 as a laboratory assistant in the semi-conductor section of the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady. Encouraged to take courses at Union College to further his understanding of the work, GE permitted him to enroll full-time at Union while continuing part-time at GE.
Upon the completion of his sophomore year at Union, he was awarded the John Henry Turnbull prize as the outstanding sophomore physics major. He married Mary Tressel that summer.
For his senior year seminar course, he was allowed to earn credit for working on a special project at the Research Laboratory on the theoretical study of gallium arsenide under the supervision of Dr. H. Ehrenreich at GE and Professor D.K. Baker at Union. This experience influenced his decision to continue his studies in solid state physics and earn a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, Urbana, under the aegis of John Bardeen, winner of a Nobel Prize in physics. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1958 at Union, where he won a contest for a Sigma Xi research paper presentation and also was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Society of the Sigma Xi. He became a member of the American Physical Society and was also awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Peter received his Master of Science degree from the University of Illinois in 1959.
He continued to work summers at GE and was awarded a GE employee fellowship in 1959 to 1960. In 1961, he was one of three GE employees to win a General Electric Foundation competitive graduate fellowship.
After earning his Ph.D., Dr. Gray joined the staff of the Research Laboratory as a solid-state research physicist in the Semiconductors Studies Section. A recipient of several patents, in 1971 he was one of four GE physicists at the R & D Center who received U.S. patents on a new method for fabricating metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistors (MOSFETS). The new process was described as "opening a whole new area of semiconductor device development and engineering." It was a key to making smaller and better-performing integrated circuits from silicon wafers.
Outside of work, he enjoyed outdoor activities: gardening, hiking, sailing, scuba diving and camping - both in the summer and winter. He spent summer weekends camping on the Lake George islands with his family and friends.
Springtime found them spending a few weeks on his 24-foot sailboat, "Presto," scuba diving in the Bahamas or exploring the Everglades or Dry Tortugas. While there, a writer for Time–Life Books discovered Peter's knowledge of small-boat cruising for families and asked him to trailer "Presto" to the Saint Lawrence River. There, Time–Life photographed and wrote about the experience of a family of five poking around the Thousand Islands on a small sailboat, resulting in a photo-essay in the volume "Cruising" in "The Time–Life Library of Boating," copyright 1975. It is part of the chapter on "Living Comfortably A-float" titled "Plenty of Room on a Pint-sized Sloop."
Peter built a greenhouse on the side of his house and enjoyed raising and experimenting on a variety of interesting plants. He was an active member of the Greenhouse and Indoor Gardening Association. He also grew vegetables on a couple of plots of land offered to employees in fields at the GE R&D Center. He took over plots that were originally unproductive or proved too difficult for another employee and turned them into high-yielding gardens.
Peter was an entertaining storyteller who related his numerous and often unusual adventures and loved to tell jokes.
He enjoyed music and attended many local concerts as well as ushering at Tanglewood in his early years in Schenectady. He attended and supported the Union College Chamber Music series and the Musicians of Ma'alwyck concerts.
He was an active member of First English Lutheran Church in the Hamilton Hill area of Schenectady and later of Grace Lutheran Church in Niskayuna. He was instrumental in getting the First English church building donated by the diocese to the Refreshing Church of God in Christ.
After retirement, Peter began building a 44-foot sailboat in a barn in Burnt Hills. A fall from the deck of that boat resulted in a fractured spine and he became paraplegic and, combined with his CBD deterioration, eventually a quadriplegic.
Peter is survived by his wife, Dorothy Norris Chillrud Gray, whom he married in 2005; his three daughters, Jennifer Korsmo (Jeff) of Wichita, Kan., Margaret Gray (Olivier Maheux) of Montreul, Paris, France, and Elizabeth Wood (Del) of Sugar Land, Texas; his three stepsons, Donald Chillrud (Jean) of Niskayuna, Andrew Chillrud (Jennifer) of Saratoga Springs and Steven Chillrud (Lucy) of Tappan, N.Y.; his two brothers, Stephen and Christopher Gray, both of Schenectady; six grandchildren; as well as his first wife, Mary T. Gray of Arizona/New Mexico, who is the mother of his three daughters.
The family wishes to give special thanks to Peter's aides who cared for him with skill and compassion, Amy Graham, Shelly Pashley, Dean O'Brien, Gwendolyn Wilkins and Matt Frement. Also to neurologist Dr. Bradley Boeve and the rest of the Mayo Clinic Rochester team of doctors, therapists and assistants who treated, guided and supported the family during Peter's illness.
Peter's brain tissue is being donated to the Eloise H. Troxel Memorial Brain Bank. This CurePSP Brain Bank is a donation program for people who have developed one of the rare brain diseases: Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Corticobasal Degeneration and Multiple System Atrophy and is maintained at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. It is a diagnostic service for families and a research resource for scientists. The mission of CurePSP, a foundation for PSP/CBD and related brain diseases, is to cure and prevent these diseases by funding research toward a cure and prevention, to educate health care professionals and to provide support, information and hope for affected persons and their families.
For those who wish, contributions in Peter's memory may be made to the Cure PSP Foundation, 30 E. Padonia Road, Suite 201, Timonium, MD 21093 or through It is a 501(c)(3) organization.
There will be a celebration of life memorial service sometime in late fall; the exact date will be announced later.
Roy Bordeau, funeral director of Simple Choices and Hans Funeral Home, has been most helpful and supportive.
Published in The Saratogian on June 30, 2013
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