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Jack Gray, professor emeritus at Southwestern, dies at 89

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Lloyd Jack Gray, professor of missions emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, died Jan. 7 in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 89.

Gray was born Oct. 16, 1915, in Stratford, Okla., and graduated from Stratford High School in 1932. He was ordained to the ministry at the First Baptist Church of LaVerne, Okla., in 1934, a few months shy of his 19th birthday.

Gray enrolled in Southwestern Seminary in 1938 and continued to pastor churches in Oklahoma while he studied for his master’s degree. He courted Elsie Carr by mail, whom he later married, and traveled by train nearly 400 miles back and forth between Oklahoma and Texas each weekend. Gray received his master of theology degree in 1942.

Cal Guy, Southwestern’s distinguished professor of missions emeritus, was also a student at the seminary during that time. Guy said that Gray invited him to be his roommate in the seminary’s Fort Worth Hall.

“He had the most quiet, peaceful room in the whole dorm,” Guy said. “When I would go out in the evening with my fiancé Terrye, I would come back and Jack would be asleep. But then I would see that he had turned down the covers on my bed for me. He was so gracious and kind like that. I was the loud-mouth of the two. But we became very close.”

Upon graduation from Southwestern, Gray enlisted in the Navy as a chaplain. He was assigned to the Seabees who were doing construction work in the Aleutian Chain of Alaska to reinforce America’s defense against advancing Japanese Imperial Armed Forces.

During a two-week leave from the Navy, Gray married Elsie on Aug. 24, 1944, in a wedding service held in the First Baptist Church of Ada, Okla. For the next year, he was assigned as chaplain aboard a Navy escort carrier. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in November 1945.

Upon completion of Gray’s military duty, the newlywed couple moved to Louisville, Ky., where Gray began working on his doctor of theology degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the spring semester of 1946. He received his doctorate in 1948.

From 1948-53, Gray pastored a Baptist church in Konawa, Okla. The Grays had two daughters, Noralyn and Kristen, during this time. In 1953, Gray accepted a call from Euclid Baptist Church in St. Louis, Mo., to be their pastor.

Guy had become a professor of missions at Southwestern Seminary.

“I was looking for someone to teach along with me,” Guy said. “I just could not find anyone who was a good fit. But I knew that Gray had his doctorate, and I knew his heart for spiritual formation.”

Guy called Gray on the telephone and asked him to come to Fort Worth for an interview with President J. Howard Williams and Jesse Northcutt, dean of the school of theology. Gray accepted the seminary’s invitation to teach and moved his family from St. Louis to Fort Worth in time for the start of the fall semester 1956. Gray spent the next 28 years serving on the faculty of Southwestern Seminary.

Gray spent his sabbatical leaves in missions work overseas. Over the years he helped plant churches and spread the Gospel in places as diverse as Nigeria, Rio de Janeiro and Taipei.

Guy described an event that he said represented much about Gray’s ministry at Southwestern.

“The Lord laid on Jack’s heart a real concern for revival in the seminary,” Guy said. “So he began to pull together students who were open to that pull. He created a prayer group that was praying to that end.

“Then in 1970, a revival broke out at Asbury College in Kentucky. Jack invited three of the students who were involved in that revival to our campus. Those three men came down to Fort Worth and spoke for about 18 minutes in chapel about their experiences. Later that night, Jack brought the Kentucky students together with our students who were praying for revival. Students began confessing their sins to one another. Southwestern responded and the revival got into our campus quite deeply,” Guy said.

Upon Gray’s retirement in the summer of 1984, his daughters donated a geochron clock to the seminary’s World Mission Center in honor of him and his wife, Elsie. The geochron clock continues to be displayed prominently in the WMC as it visually presents the movement of daylight across the globe in real time. After retirement, Gray continued to teach at the seminary as an adjunct professor and served in the seminary’s chair of prayer and spiritual formation for several more years.

“Dr. Gray was influential in the lives of thousands of students through his classes on missions and spiritual formation,” David Allen, dean of the school of theology at Southwestern Seminary and one of Gray’s former students, said. “I well remember his class which he team-taught with Dr. Cal Guy, and how his passionate emphasis on our prayer life and walk with the Lord impacted my young life. He was one of the most deeply spiritually minded men I ever knew. Ripples of his influence continue through the kingdom of God. His lasting legacy to us here at Southwestern should never be forgotten.”

Guy echoed that sentiment.

“Many students picked up spiritual awareness of the work of the Holy Spirit from Jack’s classes that they had not heard anywhere else,” Guy said. “He spent personal time with students in prayer. He had a deep spiritual life and left an impression on students around the world.”

Gray earned a bachelor of science degree in 1936 from East Central Oklahoma State Teacher’s College, which is now East Central Oklahoma State University, in Ada, Okla. For the next two years, Gray was a schoolteacher at Washita Graded High School in Tishomingo, Okla., and the pastor of Baptist churches in Vanoss, Bokchito and Bennington, Okla.

While in college, Gray began dating Elsie, a fellow student who was from another small town in Oklahoma called Okemah. Throughout the hard times of those Dust Bowl days, much of their courtship was through mail correspondence. Elsie taught school in the winter and attended college in the summer. Gray preached on weekends and taught school during the week.

Gray was preceded in death by his wife in 2002. He is survived by his daughters Noralyn Carpenter of Arlington, Texas, and Kristen Desbien of Richmond, Va., and his granddaughter Susanne Carpenter who is a medical student at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

Gray’s funeral will be at 11 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 13, at Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

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  • Brent Thompson