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.
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
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.