Eric Swanson Staff Writer email@example.com
When Barbara Young thinks about her friend William Gray, she remembers their long conversations about issues facing the Ada City Council.
Young was a member of the council from 1993 until 1997 and again from 2002 until 2010. She worked alongside Gray, who sat on the council from 1993 until 2002, and both served two terms as mayor.
Gray was a close friend who was equally comfortable discussing city issues or trading stories, Young said.
“We could talk and laugh just hours on end about issues that were going on in the city as well as things that were going on in our families,” she said. “That’s what I remember most about him — his dedication to the city and also his sense of humor, his laughter.”
Young said she learned a lot about Ada’s black community from Gray, who was Ada’s first black fire chief and councilman. She said she focused on her friend’s character, not the color of his skin.
“Bill was just such a good friend and good person that none of that ever made a difference to me, one way or another,” she said. “He was just somebody that was genuine. I felt if I told Bill something in confidence, I knew that it would stay that way.
“And he trusted me that same way.”
Gray’s relatives and friends shared their memories of Gray on Friday, four days after he died following surgery for prostate cancer. He was 67.
Serving his community
Gray was born June 12, 1946, in Ada to Edgar and Naomi (Triplett) Gray. He attended Napier School and graduated from Byng High School in 1964.
After graduation, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years. He later joined the National Guard, retiring with the rank of master sergeant in 2003.
Gray originally joined the National Guard’s infantry brigade but later transferred to the 1120th Maintenance Company, where he served with his son LaDon Carrington. The two men spent time together during the unit’s annual training sessions, summer camps and drills.
Carrington said he was already close to his father but their experience in the National Guard made their relationship even stronger.
“It was like me and him time,” Carrington said. “It was good bonding.”
Gray’s commitment to community service was not limited to his military experience. He joined the Ada Fire Department as a firefighter in 1969, was named fire chief in 1979 and remained in that position until he retired 11 years later.
After his retirement, Gray owned and operated a restaurant, a wrecker service and Bargain World television home shopping franchises in Ada and Altus.
Even after he stepped down as fire chief, Gray continued to play an active role in local government. He ran for a seat on the city council and was elected in 1993 — the same year as Young.
Young said she knew who Gray was because he had served as Ada’s fire chief but they didn’t work together until they joined the city council. She said they served on the council because they both wanted to help their hometown.
“We didn’t come on there because we had a bad street or we’d had any type of an issue with anybody at the city,” she said. “We both just came out of wanting to just give something back to the community and that’s what really, I think, cemented our friendship.”
Young said the two council members spent a lot of time gathering information and mastering the details of city issues. Gray would call her whenever he needed help understanding an issue. The two friends didn’t always see eye to eye but never pushed each other to vote a certain way.
“We would just have discussions about things,” she said. “I never knew, and he never knew, when we went to the council meetings how either of us were going to vote.
“We didn’t always vote the same way and that’s perfectly fine. Each council member owns his or her own vote, as it should be.”
‘I think he cared a lot’
LaDon Carrington said he wasn’t interested in local government until his father became the mayor. When Gray was elected mayor, Carrington decided to start paying more attention to city issues.
Carrington said his family lived in the Hammond Heights neighborhood at the time, and Gray was interested in improving the conditions in that district.
“I think he cared a lot about the community and wanted to make changes,” Carrington said.
There was more to Gray than his interest in public service.
Carrington said he will miss his father’s smile, his sense of humor and his jokes and stories. He added that Gray added an element of theater to his stories by using different voices and gestures for his characters.
“When he tells his stories, there’s a little bit of acting,” Carrington said.
Gray’s wife, Laurie Gray, said she loved her husband’s willingness to help anyone who needed it.
“Dearest Bill, I am so thankful for the wonderful man you were,” she said in an email to the Ada News. “I know I have been blessed to have had you in my life. Thank you for your love and kindness. You have taught me so much about giving.
“I am grateful for our eleven years together. I love you now and forever. Rest in heaven, my angel. Love, Laurie.”