clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mississippi, Chicago lakefront, The Gap, Bronzeville: Long journey of Tom Gray

The Mayor's Fishing Advisory Committee, which Tom Gray helped form and generally chaired, dealt with issues and fishing.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

I always wondered if Mayor Richard M. Daley really marked up newspapers on his ride to work or was it an urban myth in Chicago.

“That was true,” Tom Gray said. “He would read the papers and he would see you had written an article, then he would write, `Waiting for comment.’ ”

If no comment came quickly, Mayor Daley followed up. Gray retired from his second career this week in the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. He started in 1995 in the department of planning, retired as director of external permits for special events.

Gray lived and lives fully.

Tom Gray at his last Mayo’s Fishing Advisory Committee meeting.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
Tom Gray at his last Mayo’s Fishing Advisory Committee meeting.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

We first met shortly after Mayor Daley’s Fishing Advisory Committee began in 1996. I would also brush with Gray during the Chicago Marathon.

“Twenty years ago, we had real conflicts on the lakefront,” said Scott Stevenson, Westrec Marinas executive vice president at the final Mayor’s Fishing Advisory Committee meeting chaired by Gray on April 18.

Stevenson was spot-on when he described boaters and anglers as being “kinda at war in the early years.” And when he rhetorically asked, “When was the last time there was a conflict between fishermen and boaters?”

No, wolves aren’t living with lambs in an Edenic utopia on the lakefront, but tensions have eased. The committee is a significant part of that. Those meetings are like the spout on a teapot, allowing built-up steam to blow, issues to be aired and sometimes resolved. But Lord does it take forever for the committee to grind through things.

Tom Gray (left) chats with Westrec Marinas executive vice president Scott Stevenson at Gray’s final Mayor’s Fishing Advisory Committee meeting. The Chicago Park District’s Carl Vizzone (right) will chair the committee now.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
Tom Gray (left) chats with Westrec Marinas executive vice president Scott Stevenson at Gray’s final Mayor’s Fishing Advisory Committee meeting. The Chicago Park District’s Carl Vizzone (right) will chair the committee now.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

“I am most proud of starting the fishing committee and being able to bring the BASS Master Classic here [in 2000],” Gray said.

The Classic is both the week I worked the most in my life and my most gratifying week of work.

Gray values working with access to the lake for people (that is and will be an ongoing issue) and that the city put the Daley Launch on the Sanitary and Ship Canal at Western Avenue.

He was born in Jackson, Mississippi on a farm of more than 400 acres with everything from corn to cotton to pigs. His mother was a school teacher, his father a mail carrier. Of 11 children, only Gray and an older brother are left.

Gray came of age in tumultuous times and was involved in a sit-in.

“They hauled us off to jail and put us in a sweat box and turned the heat up,” Gray said. They were soon released and told, “ `Go home, boy.’ That was the slogan they used.”

A different piece of life.

“It made me aware and seeing how it was divided by color and economically,” Gray said. “It made me a strong person.”

He came north to attend and study engineering at IIT, then earned a masters in computer science. For a while in Chicago, he stayed with an older sister.

“Moved out and been here ever since,” he said.

He became a computer systems designer and worked for Amoco. He reached retirement in 1993, around the time they wanted him to move to Oklahoma.

“I didn’t want to leave Chicago,” Gray said.

He worked as district director for Congressman Bobby Rush from 1993-95, then began working for the city in 1995.

“Runner, hard working, dedicated to the community,” texted Carey Pinkowski, executive race director for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. “Wonderful ambassador for the City of Chicago. He has been a friend and mentor to me for over 30 years. Sweat and kind man.”

I think sweat was a text typo, but who knows with Gray and Pinkowski.

Gray did not expect the Chicago Marathon to grow into the world-class event it is now, literally, one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, but he reconsidered, “Knowing who is at the helm, he cannot do anything but go forward.”

Then, showing his wit, Gray added, “[Pinkowski] would include a dead man if he could, he would make him believe.”

Gray lives his beliefs.

“I am totally religious,” said Gray, a Lutheran. “If not, I could not live in this world.”

He was first to renovate a house, a Louis Sullivan at 3141 South Calumet, in “The Gap,” now the historic district of Bronzeville. They kept it 30 years and only sold it 2 1/2 years ago. A neighbor was Kendall Gill.

In retirement, Gray will continue acting on his beliefs and do volunteer work with the Chicago Public Schools.

He values life lived.

In August of 2004, Gray, who has a wife, two children and three grandchildren, was training for his 50th marathon.

“I went in to have a biopsy for my prostrate and they saw cancer cells,” Gray said.

A cancerous lung nodule was taken out with radiation, chemo and new medication in a study. He has been clear of cancer for a while.

“I am running and trying to get back in shape to do my 50th,” Gray said.

His aim is to run his 50th marathon in Minneapolis, the week before the Chicago Marathon in October.

A group shot at the end of the last Mayor’s Fishing Advisory Committee meeting chaired by Tom Gray.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
A group shot at the end of the last Mayor’s Fishing Advisory Committee meeting chaired by Tom Gray.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times