Donald Leroy Gray: An exceptional life of service to God

1926 to 2014

Don Gray, long-time evangelistic visionary for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, died Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in Portland, Ore. He was 87. Memorial services have been scheduled for the Rockwood Adventist Church in Portland, Ore., on Feb. 8 at 3 p.m.

Gray, Northwest born, raised and educated, was well-known throughout the Adventist world church for his tireless work in soul-winning and evangelism.

He was born in Klamath Falls, Ore., on March 19, 1926, to Irving Ellsworth Gray, and Ethel Rhodes. Ethel died of cancer when Don was only seven. At age 13, Don went with his two younger brothers, Bucky and Herby, to live with their uncle Herbert Rhodes in Portland, Ore. Herbert and his wife Edith, raised Don, Bucky and Herby as their own children. Don graduated from Portland Union Academy in only three years, and went on to Walla Walla College, in College Place, Wash., where he thrived as a straight-A student. In just three more years he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology.

While at Walla Walla College, Don met Marjorie Mason in the library, and it was love at first sight. Don and Marjorie were married shortly after he graduated from college and spent the next 65 years of their life together doing the Lords work.

Don was ordained as a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist church — the youngest man at that time to be ordained as a minister in the Oregon Conference. During the next few years Don pastored a number of small churches in rural Oregon. A number of these churches needed new structures, or physical improvements, which Don, with the help of the members, undertook with the sort of zeal and enthusiasm he carried throughout his life.

Don and Marjorie welcomed a daughter, Donna, in 1950, followed soon after in 1953 by a son, Randy.

Don developed into an excellent public speaker, and the desire to expand his ministry toward soul-winning took him into the next phase of his life. Desiring to reach larger groups of people, he began to hold evangelistic meetings in air tents, due to the lack of adequate auditorium space. Don incorporated visual media with his sermons and found it was a very effective tool in capturing the minds and hearts of those in search of a better life.

Throughout the next few decades Don’s zeal for public speaking and evangelism grew. The hope of eternal life became the main focus of his life. Don and Marjorie wrote seven books on witnessing and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. But the development of their most effective tool began in the early 1960s when they wrote a set of 24 Bible lessons. During the next few decades these lessons were translated into more than 76 languages, eventually produced as CDs and DVDs with animation and graphic illustrations. These sets were distributed throughout the world, reaching millions of lives with one simple message: Jesus love you and me, and is the way to salvation.

Don and Marjorie traveled the world promoting evangelism for the Seventh-day Adventist church in Russia, China and Europe. They worked closely with George Vandeman and It Is Written, the Voice of Prophecy, Mark Finley, Pacific Publishing Press, and many of the church’s organizations in a worldwide witnessing, and evangelistic effort. Don was one of the pioneers in multimedia approach to communication and witnessing, at one point overseeing the It Is Written Advent Digital Media project to produce cutting edge evangelistic graphics.

At all times, Don’s tireless dedication to soul-winning was paramount. The North Pacific Union and Oregon conferences once mutually awarded him a plaque of accomplishment in which they referred to him as “the unstoppable Don Gray.”

Don is responsible for the origination and establishment of a number of Seventh-day Adventist churches. Perhaps one of the most notable such projects began in collaboration with Dr. Robert Nutter in Grand Terrace, California. They purchased a bankrupt country club and its nine-hole golf course, and turned it into a church complex.

In June 2010, Marjorie passed away from complications of Alzheimer's. Heartbroken, Don lived on with his continuing passion for witnessing, but health issues began to erode his physical stamina and mobility. His son Randy remembers clearly a conversation a few months before his father’s death when Don said he needed to get out of his care home so that he would be able to help others. His heart was bigger than his strength. Don closed his eyes for the last time Sabbath morning, Jan. 11. There is no doubt that Jesus will say to him “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”

Randy says, “he was a devoted husband, loving father, and a true witness for Christ. I am proud to call him my father. He was truly a great man.”

Don is survived by his son, Randy, of Chico, Calif.; sister, Helen Winkle, of Ukiah, Calif.; and one granddaughter, Mindy Stannard, of Portland, Ore. His daughter, Donna Stannard, died in 2007.

Details provided by Randy Gray.

Share