Not many people have had the privilege of living 83 years with an exceptional big brother. Although we were separated in age by 17 years, the feelings of pride and security were very strong. When the family gathered last year to celebrate his 100th birthday with three days of gatherings, honors for Harold, and fun for us all, I thought that I would not return to Washington, D.C. if he died before I did. I knew he enjoyed every minute of our time together then. That was more important than attending a funeral.
However when I received word that Harold died on Nov. 5, my opinion changed. I knew I had to go be with the family. I needed to spend time telling the younger ones about this wonderful man that was my oldest brother. Harold was one of the few people in this world who never got very upset about anything. His college nickname was "Happy", and it fit him. He was proud of his older sister, Miriam, and all of the younger siblings that entered his life. I was the youngest, but the age difference didn't separate us as friends.
He visited in every home that Lester and I lived in except one. He kept every column I wrote to pass on to his sons or others he thought would enjoy them. He asked our sister Ellen and me to present a program for his church family in Washington, D.C. because he said he wanted to show off his two youngest sisters.
He had received many honors in Washington as president of The Oldest Inhabitants of Washington, D.C., as a mover and shaker in his Palisades Community in Washington, and as a tireless worker in his neighborhood, plotting the routes for the delivery of Meals on Wheels along with his wife, Lida Ruth.
His three sons, their wives, nine grandchildren and seven of his 10 great-grandchildren graciously hosted Ellen and me, and nieces and nephews from New Mexico to Florida for three days, celebrating the life of this 101-year-old patriarch of the Gray family. One of Harold's life-long enjoyments was listening to jazz music, so appropriately the church service was concluded with the jazz rendition of "Just a Little While to Stay Here" by Eugene Monroe Bartlett played by the original Jazz Federation band. Tom Gray, Harold's son played bass at his father's funeral and later the group entertained downstairs in the fellowship hall for a reception.
But Vernon County will remember Harold Gray (who was a graduate of Nevada High School in 1926) for his part in suggesting that the old jail and sheriff's quarters should be preserved as a museum because of the Federal architecture and historic value of the building.
He also suggested the name of Bushwhacker for the museum and the celebrations to identify the history of this area during the Civil War period. He returned to the family home, The Wayside, as often as possible and when he was 99 came for a family reunion and was able to sleep once more in his childhood bedroom. That gave him much pleasure.
As I stood beside his grave in Arlington, Va. on a beautiful sunny day with brilliantly colored leaves floating down on the grave, I couldn't be too sad. He had been the catalyst once more for a gathering of his beloved family. And I can't help but think that Lida Ruth might have arranged for some jazz music for her greeting to him.