Students and faculty packed the downstairs of Lee Hall Auditorium on Thursday afternoon to pay homage to the late Kenneth R. Gray in a campus and community-wide memorial service.
Gray, who was an eminent scholar and SBI professor of international management, died of a heart attack while rock climbing on March 24.
On a stage that bore resemblance to a flower shop because of all the floral arrangements, friends and colleagues stood at the podium to give presentations to the family and voice their thoughts of Gray, or “Uncle Kenny,” as he was affectionately known to many of his students.
Following the opening remarks by SBI Dean Lydia Mckinley-Floyd, a slide show scored to a jazz version of “Wind Beneath my Wings” was shown. The slide show featured Gray interacting with family and friends.
Quiana Hart, 20, a junior accounting student from Wichita Falls, Texas, paid her respects to Gray by singing “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Additionally, Dhyana Ziegler, assistant vice president for instructional technology and academic affairs at FAMU, voiced her thoughts on Gray’s Heiskell Award. Ziegler, who attended the United Nations Heiskell award ceremony along with some of Gray’s other colleagues, accepted Gray’s award on his behalf. “Ken brought us home the gold,” Ziegler said. “We’re all gonna miss Ken, but we know the Lord missed him more.”
Shawnta Friday-Stroud, an SBI management professor, presented Gray’s family with a treasure keepsake box filled with letters from friends and students, including a sentimental letter from a group of students Gray just recently sent to Shanghai.
Friday-Stroud, who took over Gray’s position, acknowledged Gray’s impact on her professional career. “For me personally, he helped pass the torch because I took his place. I couldn’t have done it without his guidance,” Friday-Stroud said.
Cheryl Allen read aloud a letter written by her husband, David Allen, Gray’s friend for more than 40 years. An excerpt said, “If one knew Ken Gray, if one had him as a friend, one got to know the best of humanity.”
Doris Corbett, SBI director of academic support services, presented a resolution of tribute to Gray’s family on behalf of FAMU. Alan Williams, aide to Mayor John Marks, presented a resolution on behalf of Mayor John Marks.
Students also expressed their thoughts on Gray.
Adeleke Omitowoju, 23, a fifth-year business administration student from Atlanta, said, “I had the pleasure and honor to have Dr. Gray as a professor. Dr. Gray maximized his time and made sure that every minute he was awake that he was doing something productive. To waste time is an insult of the spirit.”Allison Grooms, 22, a fifth-year business administration student from Jacksonville who worked with Gray, gave a tearful reflection of her memories of him.
“I was fortunate to develop a relationship with him professionally and personally,” Grooms said. “He gave me my first and best job that a college student could have. He gave me a family, when mine was so far away.”
In a trembling voice, she added, “I looked forward to my parents meeting my SBI dad. He may not be with us, but he’ll never be forgotten.”
Those who attended the memorial said overall, they were pleased.
“I thought the memorial service went really well. It explained my father completely,” said Khadijah Gray, 15, a Leon High School student and Gray’s daughter.
Jaye Harpring, editor of Gray’s book publishing company and longtime family friend, expressed similar sentiments. “I thought it was moving overall, but the thoughts that stand out to me was when someone said ‘Ken was nice,'” she said.
“He was so many great things. It’s a great loss. Nothing like this can really represent what a multi-faceted and wonderful person that he was,” she said. Lawrence Wooden, 23, a graduate MBA student from New Orleans said, “I think it was done very well. You can see he touched a lot of people’s hearts. He was truly an honorable person, and he will be missed.”
Following the memorial, a reception was held in SBI. The family continues to ask that in lieu of monetary donations to the family make them to the Lancy A. Gray Memorial Scholarship at the University of Bridgeport, a scholarship set up in his late daughter’s name, or to the SBI Kenneth R. Gray Scholarship Fund.