Remarks at Memorial Service for Elmon T. Gray
11 October 2011
General J.H. Binford Peay, III
Good afternoon on a special day in the life of the Institute…celebrating the life of Senator Elmon Taylor Gray, VMI Class of 1946.
The VMI seal has the inscription Virginia Fidem Praesto, meaning “Faithful to Virginia.” Wherever that seal is found at the Institute, usually affixed to buildings around the post, one is reminded of the deep attachment our Institute has to the Commonwealth. It is a motto that we can also associate with the great Virginian whom we have just lost.
The evidence of Senator Gray’s love of his native state can be found from Tidewater to the Shenandoah Valley in such abundance, that to recount all of his deeds would take up, not only the time allotted to us today, but probably several days. And then we would probably omit much. His generosity in talent, time, guidance and fortune for the benefit of the Commonwealth and its citizens was beyond measure.
Senator Gray had many deep interests that received his care and attention throughout his life. For example, the military always meant much to him. At VMI, he was a chemistry major, who “interrupted”, like cadets today, his cadetship early in 1944 to serve in World War II as an Ensign in the United States Navy. He returned to VMI in 1946 and was graduated in June of 1947. As a civilian, he sought to perpetuate the memory and to honor those who have served our nation, most recently through the creation of the Elmon T. Gray Plaza within the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia and by providing generous support to the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond. Another life-long interest was athletics. He was an outstanding catcher on the VMI baseball team, and for the rest of his life he sought to support and enhance the VMI athletic program, most recently with a gift that made possible the construction of the impressive Gray-Minor baseball stadium, named after he and Gil Minor, Class of 1963…both catchers and leaders, and clearly it is one of the finest stadiums in IAA Conferences in our country. In 1991 he received the Keydet Club’s highest honor…The Spirit of VMI Award. And well-known to all who knew him, the Institute always meant incredibly much to him. He believed firmly in the fundamental mission of the Institute to educate and prepare “Citizen-soldiers.” In recent years, not only did he give generously to support VMI’s many programs, but he also supported work by the Institute to aid the former Soviet Republics in the Baltics to pattern their military academies on the model of VMI and thereby to spread the VMI concept of education far and wide.
As a young man, Senator Gray sought ways to actively serve the Institute and advance its mission. From 1954 to 1961, he was a member of the Executive Committee of the VMI Alumni Association, a group that later became the VMI Alumni Association Board of Directors. He served on the VMI Board of Visitors from 1958 to 1966, the last two years as its President. From 1968 to 1971 he was Vice-President of the VMI Alumni Association, and from 1971 to 1973 he was its President. He also served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Keydet Club and the Board of Trustees of the VMI Foundation. He and his good Friend Sol W. Rawls co-chaired the first VMI Campaign of the VMI Foundation, which marked the beginning of VMI’s extraordinarily successful private fund-raising efforts. But these were just the formal and public ways that he served the Institute and do not include his many private acts of support and generosity.
Senator Gray was what people years ago used to extol as a “Citizen-Legislator.” He was an active citizen, a highly successful businessman, and a community leader, while also giving of his valuable time to represent his district, his hometown of Waverly, and people and institutions across the Commonwealth as State Senator for the 16th District, from 1972 to 1992. As a Senator, he served on virtually every key committee in the General Assembly and was Chairman of the Education and Health Committee. As such, he played a major role in building a diverse system of public and private colleges in the Commonwealth, for which Virginia today is widely celebrated. For most of those years, he was the only VMI graduate in the General Assembly, and it was largely through his concern for the Institute that VMI was able to grow and develop into the institution it is today. His reputation for unflagging advocacy of VMI in the General Assembly remains one of his legacies in that important and historic body.
During the past decade, I had the honor of receiving his wise counsel. Many times I would talk to he and Mrs. Gray as they walked with Rufus around the parade field. He was always conservative as to VMI’s budget, and he would comment sharply on any expansion of the Institute’s programs and its construction. We didn’t always agree…however, his examination was always conducted in his Virginian gentlemanly way…, yet the message was clear. I respected that.
There really is no adequate way over the years for the Institute to thank and recognize Senator Gray for all that he was doing to advance the Institute and the Commonwealth, but there have been attempts. As your program details, in 1977, he received the Distinguished Service Medal of the VMI Foundation. In1980 he was presented the coveted New Market Medal, awarded by the VMI Board of Visitors…perhaps, VMI’s most prestigious award, and in 2009 he received the Harry F. Byrd, Jr., ’35 Public Service Award. He is the only VMI alumnus to have received all three.
Such a record of service might be enough for one individual, but we must be “reminded” that what I have mentioned is just a small portion of a much larger picture of service to his community and to the state that included support for the Boy Scouts of America, the 4-H program, and the Sussex County School Board. Senator Gray was also a member or trustee of the boards of the University of Richmond, John Tyler Community College, Virginia Racing Associates, the Virginia Historical Society, the George C. Marshall Foundation, and the Stonewall Jackson House. The list goes on and on.
With the help and support of his wife Pam, whose record of public service was as impressive as her husband’s, Senator Gray provided a shining example for all of us to follow. His family followed that example as a son and grandson attended the Institute and his other children have all been supportive of all things VMI. He was loyal to his family, friends, fellow citizens, his constituents, and to the Institute. And we can say without hesitation today that “here” was a man who was always… “Faithful to Virginia.”