James Wallace Gray, of Vestavia Hills, passed away on May 10, 2021 at the age of 97, at home. Jim (known as Wallace throughout his young adult life) was born in Corinth, Mississippi on December 9, 1923, to Walter Oris Gray and Leona Stephenson Smith.
Jim was next to the oldest of four children (Edward, Wallace, Emma Ruth and Travis). His parents and siblings, and his wife of 73 years, June Cordella Gray, precede him in death.
He is survived by his children- three daughters Daphne Elaine Gray of Birmingham, Deborah June Gray (Congdon, husband David) of Altus OK and Stephanie Denise Gray (Ward) of Birmingham and his two sons, James W Gray, Jr.( wife, Pat) of Dallas TX and Michael Rodney Gray (wife Lois) of Chattanooga, TN.
He often remarked on the wonderful opportunities this life provided a small farm town boy from very humble beginnings in Mississippi. His father worked for the railroad, and they moved often. He worked hard from an early age, made good grades, applied all of his talents, and was very successful in life.
Jim was a graduate of Durant High School in Durant, Mississippi, where he showed remarkable talent in all sports – track and field, basketball, and football. He also was a member of the marching band. At the young age of 16, he was the lead projectionist at the local movie theater, the Dixie Theater, where he recalls showing the debut of “Gone with the Wind” six times a day for weeks on end.
Upon graduation, he joined the United States Navy, where he served as a pilot during WWII. He retired with a rank of Captain in 1970 with nearly 29 years of service, 24 of which were flying Navy fighter aircraft. His unit won the Noel Davis Trophy while competing with many other units of the Naval Air reserve for superb performance by the officers and men in his charge clearly demonstrating his outstanding management and leadership.
While stationed on the West Coast, it was there he met his wife and love of his life, “June Bug”, and soon started his family. They moved to Nashville, Tennessee after he left active service where he attended college. He graduated from Vanderbilt University with a BS in Chemical Engineering in 1949 and immediately went to work for the former Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad (TCI) Company as a student observer. This decision brought him and his new family to Birmingham, where he lived for the next 70 years. He served in many roles throughout his career and ultimately was appointed as Chief Metallurgist over the entire Fairfield Works in 1964 and served in that role until he retired in the early 1980s.
In this free time, he was an avid bass angler and golfer. He loved to hunt and was active with his sons’ Boy Scout troops. The greatest joy of his life however was family. He had extraordinary pride in his large and close family. He shared often his love of family and felt his greatest success was in the role of devoted husband, father, grandfather and great- grandfather and provider of “hugs and kisses”.
Jim loved being “Granddaddy” to his 11 grandchildren (Christy (Johnson), Kimberly (Viera), and Holly (Neff) Congdon, Stacey (Vera) , Melissa (Gomillion), and Heather (McCallum) Whitestone, Ben and Matthew Gray, Trey Ward , Aubrey and Michaela Gray ); and seeing his family grow as “great / great, great - grandfather” to 28 great-grandchildren and 5 great, great grand- children.
Jim was a wonderful man. He loved life. He accomplished anything he set his mind to and touched lives wherever he went. Everyone who knew him, loved him. He never met a stranger. Words that help describe his character are friendly, generous, selfless, sacrificial, strong, hard-working, devoted, and intensely committed to the ones he loved. He lived a remarkable and extraordinary life.