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Ann Gray: Loving wife, mother, musician, community volunteer

Ann Louise (Ritchey) Gray died peacefully with her husband and children at her side in Claremont on June 26, after a series of recent health setbacks.

She was born on May 22, 1937 in Emporium, Pennsylvania to Clarence LaVelle and Helen (Gundy) Ritchey. After World War II she moved to Bayside, Long Island, New York and then to Scotia, New York, where she worked with her family in operating a small neighborhood movie theater, restaurant, Laundromat and beauty salon.

While she learned how to cut hair, serve customers and sell popcorn and penny candy, it was her gift of “playing by ear” at age five that led her father to buy her a Hammond organ at age 15, which she played in the theater between intermissions of double features and during news reels.

This love of playing music led her to continue studying piano and then organ in high school. She also accompanied choirs, both in school and at Scotia Reformed Church. Her passion for music led her to Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, where she majored in organ with a minor in piano.

During the summers she would work at resort hotels in upstate New York, as a secretary during the day and playing dinner music on her organ at night. It was during her time in Princeton that she would be set up on a blind date with a young man named Barrie Gray.

Mr. Gray had lived across the river from her in Schenectady, New York, but the two had never met until he was nearing graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary. The young couple married four months after their first date and following his ordination as a minister.

They began their married life in Galena Park, Texas, near Houston, where Ms. Gray was a secretary to a neurologist at Baylor School of Medicine. Later, she and her husband began leading worship services in Galena Park as minister and organist.

She delivered the Gray’s first child, David, while in Texas. The family moved not long after to Gallup, New Mexico, where they took on roles at a church there. Similar opportunities would follow at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church, and Kansas City, Missouri’s Second Presbyterian Church. The couple then moved to Mesa, Arizona. Ms. Gray played for services at several churches in the Phoenix area over two years, during which she gave birth to another son, Glenn, and a daughter, Elizabeth.

Following a call to a new ministry opportunity in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, she joined her husband at Community United Presbyterian Church and served as organist there for nearly 20 years. She also undertook numerous church-related activities, including coordinating dinners, leading women’s retreats, serving as a deacon, acting as a Stephen Ministry leader and in a number of other community volunteer opportunities, including a hospice volunteer. She was recognized by the Beta Sigma Phi organization in 1986 as Woman of the Year for her service to the community.

The Grays left Lake Havasu City in the early 1990s, then lived in the Phoenix area for several years. They moved to Claremont’s Pilgrim Place senior community about 16 years ago. At Pilgrim Place, she was engaged in a number of volunteer activities, including playing organ for church services and community events, baking items for the Bakes and Sweets group and creating handmade greeting cards that were sold at the community’s annual Pilgrim Place Festival. 

Her love of playing music carried over into teaching piano and organ to students from age 7 to 70 over a span of close to 30 years. She was regularly sought out by other musicians to accompany them for recitals, weddings and performances, and until this year, she continued to play regularly for church services, weddings, funerals and other functions.

She and her husband also initiated a program in 1993 called Clergy Exchange International, which coordinated short-term clergy exchanges between English-speaking countries in 31 different countries. It was through the efforts to grow this program that they were able to visit many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and England. Prior travels included trips to China, Taiwan, France, Switzerland and Germany, where they led a tour to view the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 1990.

In addition to being a dedicated and loving wife of 59 years and nurturing mother and grandmother, she was a caring, compassionate friend to so many people, her family shared.

“She was a giver in every sense of the word, a volunteer in the communities she called home and was quick to always credit others over seeking praise for herself,” they added. “She was foremost a humble servant whose faith carried her through good times and bad. It was this ‘simple faith’ she spoke of that always served as her foundation and we know has now carried her to a better place.”

She is survived by her husband, Rev. Barrie Gray of Claremont; sons David (Sandy) of Phoenix, and Glenn (Erin) of Chandler, Arizona; and daughter Elizabeth (Seth Lowe) of Chandler; brother Paul L. (Cathy) Ritchey of Scotia, New York; and seven grandchildren, Jessica, Daniel, Allison, Parker, Cameron, Xander and Michaela.

A celebration of Ms. Gray’s life will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, July 20 in Pilgrim Place’s Decker Hall, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Ms. Gray’s name to Pilgrim Place Residents’ Health and Support Program at pilgrimplace.org.