Nov. 22-Dec. 5, 2002
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William Gray
Photo by Matt Kelly

Gray gets gift of words

By Matt Kelly

William Gray’s education started in the hospital dining room. There, twice a week for a year, he would meet with a tutor to work on vocabulary.

When he started working at the Medical Center’s dietary department 36 years ago, reading was not a necessity. He had learned long ago how to cook by sight and taste. But then came the opportunity to become a driver, delivering patients to and from appointments, and that’s when Gray knew his lack of literacy set him apart.

“What was getting me, everybody else was sitting around reading newspapers, reading magazines and all different kinds of books I couldn’t read,” Gray said. “All I could do was look at the pictures.”

Gray, now 65, had but a year and a half of formal education. A severe ear infection, requiring surgery, kept him out of school for several years, and when he was finally able to return, the principal would not take him back.

So he followed in his father’s footsteps, working on a farm in Nelson County. After the farm failed, Gray headed for Charlottesville, where he was hired at the Medical Center. His boss knew he was illiterate, and it was she who started him on the road to education.

Gray and his wife, Ella, raised two boys, both of whom are in college.

Gray has come a long way since those early days in the hospital dining room. He’s a member of a weekly book group, and serves on the board of Literacy Volunteers, one of the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign’s many charities. He is helping others do what he did. “All I was trying to do was get it,” Gray said. “I never thought about how hard it was.”


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