GRAY, JOHN E.
GRAY, JOHN E. (1907–2002). John E. Gray, university president, banker, civic leader, and education leader, was born on March 3, 1907, in Buckeye, Texas, the son of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Gray. He moved to Beaumont where he graduated from South Park High School in 1923; later John attended the University of Texas where he earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in 1936 and 1938. In 1930 John Gray married Mary M. Hahn; they were the parents of two daughters, Jean and Ann. He taught at South Park High School before working at South Park Junior College. At South Park Junior College (forerunner of Lamar University) he coached football and taught mathematics, economics, and government. He was president of Lamar College from 1942 through 1951 with time off to serve in the Navy during World War II. After the war Gray worked to win four-year senior college status for Lamar, a goal that was realized in 1951 with the creation of Lamar State College of Technology. He received an honorary doctor of law degree from Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1949.
In 1952 Gray commenced a twenty-year business career with First National Bank in Beaumont, serving first as executive vice president and later as president and chief executive officer. During this time he also took graduate courses in banking at Rutgers University and graduated in 1954. At the bank he orchestrated a merger with Security State Bank & Trust Company, thus creating First Security National Bank, the largest financial institution in Beaumont. He directed other important changes, such as construction of a new bank building, computerization of bank operations, and creation of a multi-bank holding company, First Security National Corporation. While heading the bank and serving as a director of the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Gray became a prominent leader in the Beaumont region and was a member of numerous civic and professional organizations. He wielded much influence in cultural, educational, political, business, and industrial affairs; he worked to promote the development of refineries and petrochemical plants, ports and waterways, downtown business, hospitals, charities, and Lamar College.
Gray rose to statewide prominence in higher education. In 1961 Governor Marion Price Daniel, Sr., appointed him vice chairman of the Texas Commission on Higher Education which recommended various important changes for colleges and universities. In 1962 Governor John Bowden Connally, Jr., named Gray to the Governor's Committee on Education Beyond the High School, or the Committee of Twenty-Five. Working with Chairman Henry Bartell Zachary, Gray and other committee members devised plans to improve the management of the state's colleges and universities, recommending the creation of the Coordinating Board, Texas College and University System. In 1963 Gray was honored with the Beaumont Exchange Club's Golden Deeds Award for his outstanding civic achievements. In September 1965 Governor Connally appointed Gray first chairman of the Coordinating Board, a position he held until January 1969. Under Gray's leadership the Coordinating Board produced a number of notable achievements such as creation of a ten-year master plan, increased funding for higher education, adoption of a new statewide core curriculum, and establishment of new state colleges at Corpus Christi, Dallas, San Antonio, and Midland-Odessa. Of special interest to faculty members was the creation of new programs for developmental leave, health insurance, and retirement.
In 1972 Gray retired from First Security National Bank and returned to Lamar University, serving again as president until 1977. During Gray's second term the university celebrated various improvements such as increases in enrollment and scholarships, creation of new bachelor's and master's degree programs, construction of the John and Mary Gray Library, dedication of the Speech and Hearing Center, and the opening of the Mamie McFaddin-Ward Health Science building. After Gray's second retirement as Lamar's president, he served as director of the Brown Center of Lamar University and accepted an appointment by Governor William Clements to a Special Committee on Higher Education Financing. In 1980 Lamar University Regents recognized Gray's meritorious service, awarding him an honorary doctorate of law, and in 1981 business and political leaders honored him with the dedication of the John Gray Institute, a Lamar University center for the mutual advancement of business, labor, and industry. John E. Gray died in Beaumont on March 20, 2002, at the age of ninety-five.
Ray Asbury, The South Park Story, 1891–1971, and the Founding of Lamar University, 1923–1941 (Beaumont: South Park Historical Committee, 1972). William F. Baker, "The Growth and Development of First Security National Bank in Beaumont, Texas."(M.A. thesis, Lamar State College of Technology, 1971). Carlos Kevin Blanton, "The Campus and the Capitol: John B. Connally and the Struggle Over Texas Higher Education, 1950–1970," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 108 (April 2005). Walter L. Buenger and Joseph A. Pratt, But Also Good Business: Texas Commerce Banks and the Financing of Houston and Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986). First Security National Bank Collection, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont. John E. Gray, Presidential Papers (1941–1952) and (1972–1977), Special Collections, Archives, Lamar University. John W. Storey, "The Origins and Formative Years of Lamar University, 1921–1942: The Pietzsche-Bingham Era," Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record 33 (November 1997). Joe Ben Welch, A History of the Growth and Development of Lamar University (Ph.D. dissertation, McNeese State University, 1974). Mildred Campbell Yates, "In Memoriam: John Ellis Gray, 1907–2002," Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record 38 (November 2002).
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Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on December 10, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.