Meet Wally Gray, a good man who changed my life. He was born on this day 90 years ago. Wally is married to my mother’s cousin, Frances Mildred McNabb (see previous post). When I was a girl we’d visit them in Escondido from time to time, or they’d come see us in Reedley. Their children, Larry, Susan, Steven and Tina were our “other cousins” and we’d entertain each other when our families came together.
In the early 1960s Wally started answering questions my Mennonite father had about God’s Plan for us here on earth. Questions found answers and Wally patiently taught my father that there was much more to this life than what he’d been taught. After about 3 years of study my dad, Art Laemmlen was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was small, but I remember the beginnings of our new life. I loved it.
Today I remember Wally and the amazing difference his influence has had in my life and in the lives of all my family members. I love him dearly.
Autobiography of Wallace Firman Gray
Written by Wallace F. Gray
Wally grew up in Santa Monica, graduating from Santa Monica High School in 1943. Fond memories of his early days include being a Boy Scout, delivering newspapers for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, working at Safeway Stores and being editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper, The Samohi. He also enjoyed weekend visits to Topanga Canyon with his parents on property they owned known as Tres Robles. They gradually purchased other land and moved to Topanga after Wally joined the Navy. One of the frequent guests in the Gray home was the aviator Laura Ingalls.
When he was about 10 years old, Wally’s parents decided he should start going to a church. Since his mother was Lutheran and his father Episcopalian, a choice had to be made. All three decided on the Episcopalian church and Wally started going to St. Augustine’s by the Sea, a church in Santa Monica. Wally soon was carrying the cross each Sunday during opening and closing services and was a member of the youth choir.
By the time Wally graduated from high school, World War II had started (December 8, 1941.) He joined the United States Naval Reserve where he served from 9 Aug 1943 to 20 Apr 1946. He trained as a Parachute Rigger and then served in various naval air stations before being transferred to the U.S.S. Greenwich Bay, a seaplane tender (AVP 41.) On board ship and in the ports he packed parachutes. On ship he also worked in the carpenter shop servicing safety equipment. He boarded the ship when it was commissioned in Washington. The ship went overseas just after the war ended. Wally saw duty in Pearl Harbor, Midway Island, Okinawa, Tsingtao, China; Shanghai, China; Hiro, Japan and Sasebo, Japan.
While in the Navy and docked in Seattle he met his Aunt Florence and Uncle Clem Gray (Clem was his father’s brother.) He also met his mother’s cousin Clara Hansen and her family. It was also during this time, while serving on board the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station that he met Lawrence Taylor, fellow parachute rigger, who taught him about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lawrence baptized him just before both men took off for their separate shipboard assignments.* (See Navy Experiences for the beginning page of letters written to his parents while aboard the U.S.S. Greenwich Bay, and see Navy Itinerary for his various locations while in the Navy.) See http://www.mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/ for Church doctrines.
Upon return to civilian life, Wally attended the Santa Monica Ward of the Church where he met Frances. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple and lived in Santa Monica while Wally went to UCLA. (See Temple Site for information on all LDS Temples.)
Wally attended the University of California at Los Angeles, graduating in 1950 and completing his secondary teaching credential in 1951. A job opened up at Escondido High School in northern San Diego County for an English/Journalism teacher. He taught there for 30 years working with hundreds of wonderful students and advising the newspaper The Cougar and the yearbook The Gong. He also served as the public relations adviser to the Escondido Union High School District. Their first child, Larry, was born in Santa Monica. The other three children, Susan, Steven and Christina, were born in Escondido. After retirement, Wally started a small business as a typesetter and newsletter editor working for the Escondido Chamber of Commerce and the Singer Electronic Plant in San Marcos among other firms and individuals.
In 1984, while on vacation in Nova Scotia, the couple was called via telephone by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, a leader in the Latter-day Church, to serve in Australia, Wally as executive secretary of the Pacific Area and Frances as temple and genealogy worker. This meant quitting the business and selling their two cars and making other quick arrangements. (They had four weeks to get to Australia.) After two years “down under,” they were called by President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency of the Church to serve as mission president and wife. They presided over the Australia Adelaide Mission for three years, making a total of five years in Australia. In the first assignment which was in Sydney, Australia, they worked with the ecclesiastical leaders and enjoyed associating with the fine people of the country. In the second assignment in the mission presidency, they served in Adelaide, Australia. The large mission covered the middle third of the country including all of South Australia, all of Northern Territory and parts of New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria. Their five years in Australia working with the people there and closely associated with hundreds of great missionaries (both young men and women and couples) was a highlight of their life.
Wally had previously served as president of the Palomar Stake in northern San Diego County and as bishop of the Escondido Second Ward.(Details of Wally’s Church experiences as stake president, bishop, etc. are found in They Brought Their Faith, listed below.)
Upon returning to the States the couple settled in Sedona, Arizona, where they resided from 1989 to 2005. While in Sedona, Wally served as stake mission president in the Camp Verde Stake, executive secretary in the Sedona Ward, and adult Gospel Doctrine teacher in the ward. He was the Director of the Family History Center in the Cottonwood Arizona Stake and later was high councilor advising the family history program (released in October 2004.). He served as publicity chairman of the Sedona Genealogy Club from 1992 to October 2004.
Toward the end of 2004 Wally and Frances decided that they needed to be closer to family so they made preparations to move to Henderson, Nevada, near where daughter Tina and son-in-law Kevin lived. They arrived in Henderson at the end of February 2005, and rented an apartment. They loved the ward and the area as well as being near Tina, Kevin, and grandchildren Nick (and wife Jodie) and Chris in the Desert Valley Ward where they taught the Temple Preparation Class.
In June, 2008, at the invitation of daughter Susan and son-in-law Dennis Smith they moved to Minnetonka, Minnesota, to live in the walk-in basement of Susan and Dennis’s home where they are located close to Larry and Marie, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
A highlight in October, 2008, was attendance at a reunion of their missionaries in Mapleton, Utah. Wally has written the following books:
Upon These Plates: A Personal History, December 1978**
They Brought Their Faith: History of the Escondido California Stakes, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1993 (See Chapter 6 and index for references to Wallace F. Gray.)
The Life and Letters of Donald Oliver McNabb, 1997 (father of Frances)
Tres Robles: The Story of Firman and Helen Gray, 2000 (parents of Wally)
Elsie: This Is Your Life! Volume 1:1904-1939, 2003 (mother of Frances Gray)
The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn to Their Fathers, 2006
The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn to Their Fathers, Vol. 2 2007
*For information on Wally Gray’s joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please see Joining the Church. For letters written by Wally while aboard the U.S.S. Greenwich Bay see Navy Experiences. (and linking pages) and Navy Itinerary.
**Family History Library Microfilm #1033698
***See “Mysteries of the Past” for a news release on Wally Gray appearing in the February 19, 1999, edition of the Sedona Red Rock News. This article was in connection with Wally’s membership in the Sedona Genealogy Club.
Home | The Gray Family of Sambro | Wallace F. Gray Ancestor Chart
Navy Experiences | Navy Itinerary | Joining the Church | Mysteries of the Past
Frances McNabb Gray Ancestor Chart | Biographical Index
The Value of Genealogical Stories
Ecclesiastical Line of Authority
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Exterior Symbolism on the Salt Lake Temple (by Wallace F. Gray)