Legacy of a spe­cial man

Bill Gray died more than 10 years ago but the com­mu­nity hero’s spirit has not been lost on Toko­roa, Pet­rice Tarrant re­ports.

South Waikato News - - FRONT PAGE -

To have a re­union held in your mem­ory is a re­mark­able feat.

But re­mark­able is just one word Toko­roa res­i­dents would use to de­scribe the late Bill Gray.

Sun­day will mark 14 years since the day the long-stand­ing New World owner died, and his legacy is far from been lost.

Two for­mer em­ploy­ees Stuart Short and Wendy Cook are or­gan­is­ing a re­union in mem­ory of the hum­ble gro­cer and his com­mit­ment to Toko­roa.

More than 100 of his friends, fam­ily and New World work col­leagues have been in­vited to the two-day event – an in­vi­ta­tion list that could have gone on for ever.

Thou­sands of peo­ple in the com­mu­nity were touched by Bill’s ac­tions, Mr Short said. And that is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion. More than 2000 peo­ple turned out for his fu­neral on Fe­bru­ary 2, 2000.

Bill’s wife Joyce Gray was amazed at the con­cept of a Bill Gray Re­union, but not all that sur­prised that peo­ple would go to the trou­ble. ‘‘He was pretty spe­cial.’’ He was of a rare breed, one that would never ex­pect some­one to do a task he would not do him­self, she said.

His day typ­i­cally be­gan at 4am at the su­per­mar­ket, she said.

Af­ter en­sur­ing ev­ery­thing was on track he would head off to the South Waikato Achieve­ment Cen­tre – for­merly the Shel­tered Workshop. He de­voted hours a day to the ser­vice, chair­ing it for 22 years. When the day was end­ing he would head home to bring in the cows. Af­ter all, he still had a farm to man­age.

One of his clos­est friends said at his fu­neral that it wasn’t a case of who knew Bill Gray, but who didn’t. And it’s easy to see why. He was a JP and a for­mer bor­ough coun­cil­lor. Few sport­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions did not get some ben­e­fit from his pocket or his New World shelves. In busi­ness he was, for al­most 30 years, a di­rec­tor of Food­stuffs and he was world pres­i­dent of the Mur­ray Grey Cat­tle So­ci­ety.

His son Ivan Gray said there was one thing his fa­ther did that stuck with him.

‘‘ One day he

be­came

in dis­cus­sion with a young lady from a lo­cal kindy. She was look­ing for as­sis­tance with the kindy and so Dad be­came the trea­surer.

That’s in­dica­tive of the type of per­son he was.’’

That very na­ture was clearly ap­pre­ci­ated – the idea to name a street af­ter Bill was se­ri­ously de­bated.

It will be a bit­ter-sweet re­union for the ex­tended Gray fam­ily, which, in may ways, in­cludes all those who knew him.

Mem­ory lane: Stuart Short, right, re­mem­bers his boss Bill Gray and the fan­tas­tic team they had at New World. Inset: Hard worker: No task was ever too de­mean­ing for the boss. Mr Gray was of­ten seen stack­ing the bread.

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