Remembering John Gray

Remembering John Gray

John Gray, the long-time high school principal who passed away last week, shown here at the 2009 commencement ceremony.

The Barrington Public Schools community said good-bye to one of its most beloved figures last week following the death of John Gray.

Mr. Gray served as Barrington High School principal for 29 years, beginning in 1980 through his retirement in 2009.

In the days after his passing, those who knew and worked with Mr. Gray had no shortage of kind words to share about him.

Ralph Caruso, a retired English teacher who worked with Mr. Gray for 26 years, said Mr. Gray was always an English teacher at heart and would often begin staff meetings with a quote or passage from something he recently read.

Mr. Caruso described Mr. Gray as a great communicator who supported his staff in every way possible.

“He would do anything in his power to make your classroom a better place, a true place of learning,” he said.

Mr. Caruso served as the final speaker at a retirement party for Mr. Gray. That night, Mr. Caruso told the audience that being called to the principal’s office wasn’t a bad thing while working for Mr. Gray. The visits were positive ones, filled with encouraging stories from parents or a pat-on-the-back for the recent achievement of a school sports team.

Mr. Caruso also praised Mr. Gray for his ability as a “general manager.” Mr. Caruso said Mr. Gray replaced about 80 percent of the high school staff during his tenure and continually managed to bring in talented educators.

The final line of Mr. Caruso’s speech came from a class of 2009 student: “She said that should she make it to heaven someday, she hopes that God looks like Mr. Gray,” read Mr. Caruso.

About two years after leaving the high school, Mr. Gray served as interim principal for Nayatt School. It was a time when the school was without a leader, its former principal having resigned amid concerns with standardized testing scores and a selected successor out of the picture one week before the start of school.

“He was exactly what we needed when we needed it,” said Nayatt School secretary Brenda Lamanna.

“He just embraced us and he guided us and he protected us. He fixed us, he glued us back together. Even though it was only for half a year, everyone grew really close to him and we’ve been told that he really enjoyed his time here.”

One of the more interesting aspects of Mr. Gray’s time at Nayatt, said Ms. Lamanna, was his interaction with numerous parents who had previously attended Barrington High School. Mr. Gray remembered all of their names, Ms. Lamanna said, along with any sports they played or activities they took part in. Ms. Lamanna said Mr. Gray even remembered one parent’s high school sweetheart.

Ms. Lamanna also said Nayatt students took to Mr. Gray, some of whom would run up and hug his leg in the hallways.

In the days following his passing, Ms. Lamanna said the atmosphere at Nayatt was mournful. On the school’s website was a picture of Mr. Gray reading to students above a message, which read “Thank you for all you did for the students of Nayatt and the Barrington community.”

“He’s an amazing man, he’s wonderful,” said Ms. Lamanna.

“He is genuine, he is so well respected. He is completely loved.”

School Superintendent Michael Messore worked for several years as an assistant principal under Mr. Gray. Tuesday evening, not three hours after Mr. Gray’s death, Mr. Messore sent out an e-mail.

“John was truly an innovative educator and always an advocate for our children. His level of commitment and dedication to education was always focused on each and every student,” read Mr. Messore’s message.

“John set the bar high and expected the very best from everyone as he demonstrated this by example. He was the first to recognize the accomplishments of teachers as well as students and never took credit for himself but always gave credit to others. He was extremely supportive of our district and our community as he considered both to be partners in the educational process.”

Barrington School Committee Chairman Patrick Guida said he had known Mr. Gray since the late-1980s. Mr. Guida said he had the “privilege” of working with Mr. Gray through a number of groups such as a strategic planning action team and the high school improvement team.

Mr. Guida characterized Mr. Gray as a “highly effective educator and leader.” Mr. Gray’s style, said Mr. Guida, was one of mutual respect for his team and was “very effective” in administering the high school.

Mr. Guida also praised Mr. Gray for his efforts in advocating for students to pursue higher levels of achievement through measures such as advanced placement courses. Additionally, the now statewide graduation requirement for senior projects was borne in Barrington during My. Gray’s tenure.

Mr. Guida said the legacy of Mr. Gray’s leadership remains at Barrington High School to this day, his performance as principal served as an example for the entire district and his decades at the helm demonstrate a high level of capability and determination.

“Our community is very demanding when it comes to education and John stood up to the plate time after time,” said Mr. Guida, who added Mr. Gray was “exemplary” in dealing with both scholastics and on a personal level with individual students.

“I’m a great admirer of John,” Mr. Guida said.

“I feel as though we felt a great loss. I’ll always remember him fondly as one of my all time favorite people.”

Since Mr. Gray’s retirement, the high school has been led by Joe Hurley, who had previously served as assistant principal for about a decade. Mr. Hurley said Mr. Gray was never someone who rested on the laurels of Barrington or prior success at the high school. Mr. Hurley said Mr. Gray was “extremely organized” and was “progressive” in his thinking.

“He was just an incredible person to work under and he was a good friend,” Mr. Hurley said.

Mr. Hurley also noted that while last year’s graduates were the last high school students to attend class under Mr. Gray, he heard from a number of alumni last week.

One of Mr. Gray’s children, Adam, said the outpouring of support following his father’s passing was “tremendous.” Adam said Mr. Gray’s wake included a receiving line filled with stories of his impact on educators and students, some of whom had gone on to pursue a career in education.

Adam also said his father fought “extremely hard” after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May and that Mr. Gray loved his family including his four grandchildren and his wife, Cheryl, with whom he had been married for 44 years.

“He would want to be remembered as a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, mentor, teacher and educator,” said Adam.

“He was just a positive influence. He touched so many people in so many different ways.”

John Gray, the long-time high school principal who passed away last week, shown here at the 2009 commencement ceremony.