Willie Lee Gray
1936 - 2020
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Gray , Willie L.

Compassionate, determined, brilliant, vibrant and faith-filled are words to describe Willie Gray. She was the wife and best friend to the late Andrew Gray, and the proud mother of Kelvin and Kimberly. Willie made her transition on October 19, 2020, at the age of 84. Lifelong educator, community service change maker and world traveler, are parts of her life accomplishments, triumphs, and milestones that will be forever remembered.

Willie L. Gray was born to her heavenly parents, Jeff and Mary Ella McGehee on March 13, 1936, in Oak Grove, Louisiana. Her father worked in a saw mill and her mother was a homemaker. Her parents were blessed with five children together and an additional six children by blending their families. Her parents raised a loving family.

She was preceded in death by her sisters Lemmie Ross, Jimmie L. Johnson, Freddie Mae Petry, Ann Jones Curry and brothers, Jeff McGehee Jr., J.W. McGehee and Marshall McGehee.

Her life will continue to be celebrated by sisters, Betty Battles and Ola McGehee; brother Charles McGehee (Carolyn); son Kelvin Gray (Renee); daughter Kimberly Gray White, MD (Keith, MD); granddaughters Kari Gray, Kela Gray, Kaleigh White, Kyah White, Ashley Pinkston, and Jasmine Pinkston; grandson Keith Trent White Jr.; great grandchildren Jaior Rouse and Ameliah Rouse; nieces Benita Weaver (Karl) and Rosalind McGehee; nephews Bernard Battles and Sean McGehee, and a host of other dear relatives and friends.

Willie loved her family deeply and understood the importance of keeping family close. Through her matriarchal role, she was generously nurturing, supporting and educating to her immediate and extended families.

Through her parent's guidance, Willie learned the importance of prayer and worship. Faith and prayer became an important part of her life at an early age.

Education

Willie's family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas when she was a youngster, for better opportunities. One of those opportunities was education, which was keenly important to her parents. Willie attended Coleman High School in Pine Bluff, where she absorbed the full experience by making excellent grades, assisting her teachers and tutoring her fellow students. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class.

In 1959, Willie earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Education from University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff (AM&N College). Here she initiated into her beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority Incorporated, Alpha Rho chapter, in 1957.

A consummate learner, Willie furthered her education at Chicago State University (CSU), earning a Master of Science in Urban Education in 1975. Her son, Kelvin, remembers accompanying her to the CSU library to write research papers, as he completed his grade school homework. Willie would later earn certifications in Reading and Language Arts from the Chicago Teachers Academy; Science and Mathematics Teacher Training and Science Teaching Development, both from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and a Science Endorsement for grades K-8 from National Lewis University.

Career

After college graduation, Willie began her teaching career in Turrell, Arkansas. That is where she met the love of her life, Andrew, in nearby West Memphis. She was immediately attracted to his intelligence and passion for teaching young people.

Through their determination to grow in their teaching careers and their lives together, Andrew and Willie moved to Chicago in 1961. They attended Liberty Baptist Church, where they were united in Holy Matrimony. Andrew and Willie enjoyed 38 years of marriage and were blessed to start a family.

Willie began her career as a Chicago Public School (CPS) educator shortly after the move to Chicago. She had a passion for teaching the upper-middle grades. Willie taught 7th and 8th grades at Gladstone Elementary, Adam Clayton Powell Elementary and Harvard Elementary schools. She loved teaching science and found great joy in her student's comprehension of the subject. Willie was also known as a "Teacher's teacher", as she served as role model and mentor to many teachers that wanted to grow their careers in education.

During her career, Willie received many accolades and awards that celebrated her accomplishments. She always felt the accomplishments of her students was most important. Her career was exemplary. After 42 years of teaching, she took a well-deserved break and retired in 2001.

Faith

In 1989, Willie was inspired to join Trinity United Church of Christ. Her church was a calming presence in her life, where she also served her community. At Trinity, she was a member of the Fine Arts and Literary Guild, Women's Chorus alto section and the Trinity Alpha Kappa Alpha group. It was with the African Ministry that she experienced spiritual and cultural sojourns to Ghana, West Africa. Her trips to Africa created a much-enjoyed connection and understanding of our history.

Willie's love for the Trinity family was mutual. Sunday morning fellowship extended to brunch, with her friends.

Community

In retirement, Willie split her time between Chicago and Ft. Lauderdale. Although retired, she was still committed to making a difference. She continued to work to enhance and heighten education in her community, through local organizations and her beloved AKA, Theta Omega chapter.

Over the years it warmed her heart to witness the initiation of her daughter Kimberly, sisters Betty and Ola, and daughter-in-law Renee, into their illustrious sorority. Willie enjoyed a Life Membership to the sorority.

Passions

Playing bridge and traveling were her passions. The two passions were often combined. She learned to play in college and never stopped. She was devoted to the American Bridge Association and the Midwest Bridge Unit in Chicago, IL. Willie was dedicated to education in all aspects of her life, as she was a willing bridge teacher and recruiter.

Her travels took her to Paris, France, Barcelona, Spain and across Africa to Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, and South Africa; throughout Brazil, Canada, Bahamas and most of the United States.

Traveling to family reunions was always high on her list. Her daughter Kimberly noted, "My Mom made sure we had family reunions, so that we would know our family members. She always emphasized the importance of knowing your heritage."

Willie remained active throughout retirement, spending as much time as possible with family (especially her grandchildren) and friends. She relished the snowbird life, enjoying Chicago in the summer and winters in Ft. Lauderdale. Willie Gray enjoyed life.

A memorial service for family and friends will take place at a later date.

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." Timothy 4:7

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Published in Chicago Sun-Times on Nov. 15, 2020.
Memories & Condolences
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4 entries
November 20, 2020
My sincerest condolences to the family of Willie Gray. Soror Willie was an amazing woman and I’m blessed to have known her. I will miss seeing Soror Willie at AKA events and at Trinity United Church of Christ. Rest in heaven Soror Willie.
Karen Comer
Friend
November 20, 2020
You were deeply loved . You made a whole world better. It was an honor to have you in my life . Your living and doing made a whole world better
Cannot wait to get a big hug when we meet again .
Tresa Dunbar Garrett
Friend
November 15, 2020
Our condolences to the family. May God continue to bless you all.
The Spears Family
Friend
November 14, 2020
Sincere condolences to the family at the loss of such a wonderful, Christian lady full of light and love. I enjoyed worshipping with her whenever she was in Tampa and she always brought her grandchildren, Kayleigh and Kyah.
Ruth Robertson
Family
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