On October 20, 1912, young George Gray, Sr. left the Midwest to settle in Berkeley, California. This past August, numerous Gray descendants gathered in Berkeley for a Centennial Celebration.
This story first appeared in the Berkeley Times newspaper in August 2012.
Nearly fifty members of the extended Gray family gathered on Sunday, August 12 to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the family patriarch’s 1912 arrival in Berkeley. In the fall of 1912, George Gray, Sr., then 32, moved to Berkeley from St. Louis to take a job as a manufacturer’s representative for Graybar Electric in San Francisco. Gray had changed his surname from Grabowski after suffering discrimination in business ventures. He rented a 1906-built three-bedroom home on Virginia Street just a few doors from shops and the streetcar line on then-Grove Street. His young wife, Margaret Spofford Gray, their three young children, new baby, and George’s mother and sister joined him in Berkeley soon afterward. A brother and other family remained in St. Louis.
Five more Gray children were born at Berkeley’s Herrick Hospital, and all nine attended Berkeley schools – Whittier, St. Joseph’s Elementary and High Schools, Garfield Junior High (now King) and Berkeley High. Some attended U.C. Berkeley; the eldest, George, Jr. graduated from Cal in 1928. When George, Sr. died in 1934 after suffering a stroke, Margaret and George, Jr. raised the family. An active member of several church, school, and ladies’ groups, Margaret died in 1953. The nine Gray children stayed local, in Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, Kensington, San Lorenzo, San Francisco, and San Jose. Among them, they produced 27 Gray grandchildren, many of whom were on hand for the August 12 celebration with their own children and grandchildren. George Gray, Jr. remained in the family home on Virginia Street until his sudden death at age 61 in 1968. For decades, the entire clan had gathered on Christmas Day at Virginia Street and for summertime family picnics, first in Pleasanton and later at Russian River. A reunion still takes place every year. Among the family businesses were the George A. Gray Company in San Francisco, Harold S. Gray Company in El Cerrito, and Graysix Company on Fourth Street in Berkeley, named for its founding six Gray brothers. Graysix, still family-owned and operated, celebrated its sixty-sixth anniversary in Berkeley on October 1, having started in the basement of the family home in 1946.
Nineteen of the Gray grandchildren would attend Berkeley schools: Jefferson, Malcolm X, King Jr. High, School of the Madeleine, St. Joseph’s, and later, Presentation and Saint Mary’s High Schools, with brothers and sisters and cousins populating virtually-contiguous grades at the two high schools from 1961 through 1983. Four great-grandchildren are graduates of Saint Mary’s High.
The August 12 centennial event began with morning Mass at Berkeley’s St. Joseph’s Church where Grays have been members since 1912. The group was then welcomed back for family photos on the steps of the Virginia Street home by Mr. Bill Goodman who had purchased the house in 1968 and still resides there. A celebratory luncheon followed at Le Bateau Ivre Restaurant on Telegraph Avenue. Special commemorative cookies made by Virginia Bakery in Berkeley served as souveniers.
Attendees ranged in age from the sole remaining Gray brother, Bob, 85, to the newest of the great-great grandchildren, Thomas Spofford Beltramo, born in May. Descendants of the St. Louis branch of the Gray family travelled from Southern California and Arizona to attend. George and Margaret’s progeny include 38 great-grandchildren and, to date, 10 great-great-grandchildren. All but a handful reside in California.
The Gray family history in America dates back to George, Sr.’s mother’s family, named Nouza, emigrating from Bohemia in the 1860s, and the Spoffords leaving England to settle in Maine and in Massachusetts as early as 1638. Spofford Pond and Spofford Pond School in Boxford, Massachusetts carry their name.
Writer Jeanne Gray Loughman is number sixteen of the
27 Gray grandchildren, is on staff at Saint Mary’s High, Berkeley, and is a regular contributor to Patch.