Leader Blues

Friday, February 26, 2010

TOP STORY >> Bart Gray a good sport as he’s roasted at fundraiser

Bob Walker (left) roasts Bart Gray Jr. (fourth from left) at the Jacksonville Senior Center roast. Also enjoying a laugh are (from left) Daniel Gray, Kim Crook and John Hardwick.

 Bart Gray Jr. responds after a long evening of being roasted and toasted. 

By RICK KRON

Leader staff writer

More than 300 people packed the Jacksonville Senior Center on Thursday night to roast longtime businessman and city leader Bart Gray Jr.

The annual roast is a major fundraiser for the senior center and the money is used to support its many activities and programs.

For Bart it was a homecoming of sorts. In his younger days the Gray family owned and operated Grayco Theater which sat on the site of the current senior center.

John Hardwick, one of the roasters, told of the time Gray, as a teenager, brought a date to the theater.

“He worked there so he knew where all the dark corners were and the dark spots in the movie, and he sat right over there,” Hardwick said, pointing to the right side of the banquet room.

“And when the time was right,” Hardwick continued, “Bart started that stretching thing and had his arm around the girl and slowly, carefully, waiting until all was dark, grabbed that girl’s Junior Mints.”

Commenting on Gray’s strong faith, Hardwick said as a first-grader, Bart listened intently to his teacher talk about whales.

“Bart’s hand went up and when the teacher called on him, he said, ‘Jonah was swallowed by a whale,”’ Hardwick said.

The teacher responded, saying the whale’s throat was too small to swallow Jonah and that it was only a Bible story. Bart insisted it was true and told the teacher that when he got to heaven he would ask Jonah. “But,” Hardwick said, “the teacher responded, ‘What if he’s not in heaven?’”

“Then you can ask him,” Bart replied.

Fellow Realtor Bob Walker said Gray was the only person he knew who could take a simple yes or no question and turn it into a 20-minute dissertation. “And then you still don’t know if the answer was yes or no,” Walker said.

Walker said Gray mentored him in the real estate business. “He’s been in it a long time. His first client was someone named Moses, and Bart’s biggest deal involved some beads, trinkets and Indians,” Walker quipped.

Walker said when he was called to roast Gray, he already had another commitment. “But then I thought, well, I can wash the cat anytime,” Walker said.

City Attorney Robert Bamburg was another roaster and took the crowd on a musical journey of Gray’s life, playing snippets of songs that describe Gray from “Blue Suede Shoes” (Bamburg said Gray actually owned a pair) to “Sweet Caroline,” a dedication to Gray’s wife, to “I Will Survive.”

Bamburg did say that Gray was getting a “tad forgetful” as he has aged and often wears a shirt that says, “If found, please return to…”

Bamburg said besides the opportunity to poke some fun and raise money for “this jewel of a senior center,” he had to say that Gray was a mentor and a true friend. “And true friends are very rare in life,” Bamburg said.

Gray’s nephew, Daniel, also got into the roasting, saying he was quick to accept the role.

“I’ve been waiting 30 years for this. In fact, when it was first talked about back in November, I lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Gray brought out the family album and showed pictures of a young Bart on the big screen, but the kicker was Bart’s college transcript, which showed that he had all A’s except in sales management. “He got a C,” Gray quipped. “A C!”

Gray said that his uncle never sees problems, only opportunities. “And I’ve had plenty of opportunities behind closed doors with him getting my backside chewed,” Gray added.

He also said that Gray was his favorite uncle on his father’s side, “and so what if he was the only male on that side?”

Bart Gray was the last to go on, having the chance for rebuttals, and rebut he did.

He said the way he was raised was that if you didn’t do something right the first time, you did it again. Then looking at Walker, he said, “And Bob, you seem to do everything twice.”

Gray called Hardwick a good friend in spite of showing him 490 different houses when the Hardwicks first came to Jacksonville and “then he buys a ‘for sale by owner’ house.”

Gray called Daniel one of his five favorite nephews. “He’s done a lot of good work in the community and in the church. Now, if we can only get him to do some good work for the company.”

The master of ceremonies for the night was Kim Crook, one of Gray’s two stepdaughters. She kiddingly said that when Gray proposed to her mother, she wasn’t sure if it was a good deal.

“But then I got thinking,” she said. “With Bart in the house it meant an extra phone line, a microwave, another vehicle and he owned a hotel with a swimming pool. Hmmm, I think this marriage will work after all.”

And it has worked for 29 years and Gray told his wife that the best was yet to come.

Jacksonville Senior Center’s mission is to improve the quality of life for senior citizens with a primary focus on the prevention and postponement of the requirement for nursing-home care. The center is staffed mostly by volunteers who logged nearly 6,450 hours of service with the center during 2009.

The senior center provides a host of activities and programs, including serving meals at the center and taking meals to seniors’ homes, transportation for seniors, phone calls and home visits to check on the health and welfare of seniors and light housekeeping for some seniors.

In 2009, the center provided 10,372 meals at the center, 41,480 home-delivered meals and responded to 10,014 transportation requests.

Other activities provided by the center staff include blood pressure and sugar testing, hearing testing, diabetic footwear fitting, health and nutrition education, scheduling doctors appointments, computer classes, day trips, holiday celebrations and in-house concerts.