Growing up as an African American in the middle of the 20th century, prior to the Civil Rights movement, was not easy. Garrett Gray ‘55 knows all about it, but he did not let that get in the way of achieving his potential and realizing his dreams.
Gray, a graduate of Visitation grade school in north city, earned second honors at SLUH and participated in football (freshman year), riflery (sophomore) and Xavier Forum (freshman). Despite the national social climate at the time, he saw SLUH as an “oasis.”
In 2018, he shared the following with Prep News editor Jack Schweizer ‘18: “I think my junior or senior year, we were going to have our class picnic at some place. They said they weren’t going to accept the arrangements of SLUH bringing the black students along, and Fr. Higgins told these guys, ‘Look, you either accept them all or we don’t come,’ so they accepted all of us. So St. Louis U. High was kind of an oasis. The bad part was, of course, there was still the residential segregation and attitudinal segregation, which was kept in check but it was still there. But St. Louis U. High to a certain extent was an oasis.”
After graduating from SLUH, Gray earned an associate’s degree at Harris College, a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from UCLA (1960), a master's degree in Management from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (1966), and an MBA/JD from Harvard Business and Law School (early 1970s).
From 1962-68, he served in the U.S. Navy, with stints as Education and Training Officer aboard the attack aircraft carrier USS Oriskany; Assistant Communications Officer at the Naval Air Facility in Okinawa; Communications Officer aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Waddell; and Personnel Officer at the Naval Air Facility in Cam Ranh Bay. Gray was honored for his military service with several awards, including the National Defense Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal (four campaign stars), among others.
Following the Navy, Gray embarked on an impressive professional career as an IRS revenue officer, IBM systems engineer, Assistant Treasurer at Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, Corporate Counsel at Pfizer, Inc., and Vice President & General Counsel at Minerals Technologies, Inc. (MTI).
In 1992, when Pfizer left its minerals business, Gray was selected to organize an Initial Public Offering (IPO) for MTI. Jean-Paul Valles, PhD, Chairman Emeritus of MTI, recalls his experience collaborating with Gray.
“I had worked with and known Garrett for many years, and I had been impressed by his knowledge, his ability to work with others, his ability to explain problems, to explain the alternatives and recommend a course of action to solve problems. To do an IPO is a gigantic legal endeavor. Not only do you have to prepare all the governmental documents, you also have to negotiate what will come and what will stay in terms of assets and liabilities. And you have to negotiate who will come and stay, including issues like pension transfer, health care and other benefits.
“The preparation for the IPO went as smoothly as possible, and ultimately it was a great success. A few months later we did a secondary offering and Garrett did another superb job. MTI became completely independent from Pfizer. Of course, from the start, Garrett had put together an outstanding legal team.
“Garrett and I got along splendidly all the years we worked together. He was a gentleman in the true sense of the term. MTI has been and is a very successful company, and Garrett played a key role in its success.”
Shortly after his retirement from MTI in 2005, Garrett volunteered at several organizations. He joined the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, working in the business office of Cristo Rey Newark High School for several years. In addition, he was a volunteer municipal court mediator in Union County, NJ; an AARP volunteer tax preparer (he earned the TaxAide Fellow Award in 2017 for his long and distinguished service to the program in Union County); and a Trustee at Meeting Essential Needs With Dignity, Inc. (MEND), which provides food for those in need in Essex County, NJ.
According to Jamie Anthony, Jr., MEND Board Chair, “Garrett’s integrity, wisdom and leadership helped guide MEND to its current capability to annually serve more than 125,000 children, women and men in need in Essex County.”
Today Gray resides in New Providence, NJ with his wife, Florence, who he met in 1968 after his service in the Navy. They have two daughters and two grandsons. In 2018, Gray suffered a stroke, which has limited his ability to do many of the things he enjoys.
“Given Garrett’s career success, it is obvious his SLUH education prepared him well,” Florence says. “His wanting to give back is an indication of his respect for what he has been given.” The Grays are consistent donors who have given regularly at the Founders Society level.
Reflecting on the 200-year history of SLUH, Gray stands tall among many distinguished alumni. Just the seventh African American to graduate from the school (his brother, Wilson, graduated in 1954), he was motivated by the pursuit of excellence and an indelible will to help others. He was a trailblazer and model of what is possible, regardless of race, whose legacy of achievement and generosity will endure for future generations to admire and emulate.
Garrett Gray ‘55 is among several alumni featured on a new display at SLUH celebrating the achievements of graduates of color.
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Gray is also featured in our 2018-19 Gratitude Report from the President (accessible below).