Hundreds came out to pay their respects and say their final goodbyes at the homegoing service of Elbert “El” Richard Gray, who was laid to rest, Aug. 24.
The funeral was held at Allegheny Center Alliance Church on the North Side where family, clergy and public officials spoke very highly of Gray and how he will be missed by all who knew him.
|NEVER FORGOTTEN—Pallbearers carry out the casket containing the body of El Gray, long time anti-violence activist and community leader from Allegheny Center Alliance Church, in the North Side, where his funeral was held. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
Gray was born and raised in Manchester, graduating from Allegheny High School. However, he lived all over the city as an adult. While at Allegheny, he was one of the stars of the basketball team, a leader amongst his peers and it was there that he met his wife of 42 years, Charlene B. Gray.
They had four children, Elbert R. Gray Jr., Jayme L. Johnson, Anthony J. Gray and Malanzo Davis. He was proud of his children and took great pride in being a father.
Gray always dressed to impress and was known for his stylish ways. His mission in life was to provide not just his immediate family members with an ear to listen, but for any soul which found themselves troubled. He listened because he too was troubled before he found his calling and was intimately familiar with their cries. He could talk to people from Wall Street to the streets.
He was affectionately known throughout the neighborhood as “Uncle El” and by his children as “Captain” or “Pops.”
“What I’ve learned from my dad is that no matter how many times he got knocked down in life dealing with his addiction, he got right back up. His addiction to drugs took up a lot of time, but fortunately for the last 17 years he did not have to deal with that any longer,” said his son Elbert Gray Jr.
During his formative years, that is how he got educated. That is also how he became a man because he kept falling down and getting back up, he said.
“The thing that I will always remember about my dad is that he was very family oriented and a very strong willed individual. The fact that I had to share my dad with countless individuals did not bother me at all because we shared him in life and now will share him in death. When I saw him staying drug free and helping others, that’s when I made up in my mind that it was ok for me to share him with others,” said Elbert Jr.
“The fact that he lost his grandson, which was my son, made him realize that no family was above losing a loved one. He not only loved his family, but he had love for everyone. He was that ear for people who had problems because he was once troubled and so he really understood their cries.”
Gray was passionate about the youth of this city and for the past 10 years he worked for One Vision One Life, attempting to put an end to the senseless violence in our communities. Throughout his years of service with One Vision One Vision, he served as the Director of Street Outreach and was most recently named the Community Ambassador.
“El was my uncle and he was such a great person who always helped others and that’s what we as a family want to continue to do,” said Patricia Parker of the North Side Coalition for Fair Housing.
“El Gray and I go back many years. We met on the other side of the tracks and by the grace of God we got on the other side. He was very focused on doing well for the youth,” said Ken Nesbit, Section 3 Specialist for the East Liberty Corp Organization.
“El was a great supporter of everything I’ve done since I began working in the community. He was a great mentor to me and always had a kind word. His wisdom is unmatched and there are only a few people in this city that I take advice from and he was definitely one of those people. He was always there for me when I needed him and he will be missed,” said Lee Davis, Outreach Coordinator for the Community Empowerment Association.
“We went to elementary school at Manchester Elementary and I’ve known him my entire adult life. He was a great guy with good values and turned into a tremendous role model for the next generation and I was very honored to know him,” said Bill Strickland, president and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corp.
“When I was talking to Randy McIver the other day before Elbert died, he told me that he was next to death. I said that I can’t imagine not seeing Elbert Gray and that bull horn talking to the community saying cut it out and come together. He was such a champion and a street soldier who was always pleasant and with good spirits. I was with him recently at lunch and he never projected that he was sick. Valerie Dixon of B-PEP was just as shocked as I was and we will all miss his energy, commitment and his spirit,” said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project.
Gray was called home Aug. 18, with his wife by his side. His final days were filled by his family and a host of friends.