Margaret Mitchell Travis Gray (1923-2005)

By Charlotte Patillo Gray[1]

Margaret Mitchell Travis Gray (1923-2005)Margaret Mitchell Travis Gray was born the oldest of three children to Bessie Ethel Page and Emmett Alexander Travis. Bessie's family was from the White's Creek area of middle Tennessee and Emmett's family was from the Kittrell area of middle Tennessee. Emmett had been accepted to Vanderbilt University to begin his studies, possibly as an engineer, as he was quite an inventor, when World War I called him to the front lines of the Argon Forest. After he returned and three children were born to them, Margaret, Robert (Bob) and David, Bessie and Emmett chose to raise their family on Chapel Avenue in the east side of Nashville, Tennessee, across the street from the Chapel Avenue Church of Christ where the family faithfully attended church. Emmett never returned to school, but instead took a job with the postal service at Union Station in downtown Nashville.

As Margaret grew, she attended East Nashville High School, graduating in 1941 as Salutatorian of her class and voted "Most Dignified" girl. It was here that she met William Ryburn Gray, son of William Macajah Gray of Leesburg, Virginia and Pearl Cordelia James of Union, Mississippi. William M. worked with the tax division of the Internal Revenue Service, and they were living off Stratton Avenue in east Nashville. William Ryburn Gray was also voted "Most Dignified" boy in the graduating class of 1941 and was headed to Vanderbilt University into a premedical program, but definitely had his eye on this prim young lady that lived not far from his home.

Margaret was headed to David Lipscomb College. The relationship between William and Margaret continued to blossom. She graduated from David Lipscomb College in 1943 and went on to George Peabody College and graduated from Peabody in 1944. She received a certificate in Dietetics from Vanderbilt University in 1945. David Lipscomb College, in need of a Home Economics teacher, asked her to return as an instructor. She was an instructor at Lipscomb from 1945 to 1947 and Secretary of the Tennessee Dietetic Association. By this time, William Ryburn Gray had transferred from Vanderbilt to the University of Louisville (his father had been transferred to Louisville, KY) and had entered medical school at the University of Louisville. They were married in the summer of 1947 and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. She was a dietitian at Children's Hospital in Louisville from 1947 to 1949.

Bill was called into active duty with the Navy as a medical officer, and was in both World War II and the Korean War. In the midst of these times, their family was growing. William Ryburn Gray, Jr. was born in 1950, and James Travis Gray was born in 1952, Patricia Ellen Gray in 1953, and Edward Alfred Gray in 1955. From then on, Margaret spent her hours as a dedicated wife and mother. She kept her highly organized household running smoothly. Her hands were never idle. She sewed the family clothes, did needlepoint, smocking, crochet, made homemade rolls by the pans full, apple pies by the dozen, and chocolate chip cookies by the gallon and never missed a church service at the Westport Road Church of Christ or an opportunity to do good for others. And with her attention to detail, everything was always done to perfection.

As the children all left for college her "nest" was not empty. It became filled with the care of the older generation. She took care of both her parents still in Nashville and her mother-in-law who lived in Louisville.

During her growing up years, her father Emmett never talked about those times during World War I, but he had kept a diary from the front lines. During those visits to care for her father, she began to talk to her father about the experiences of his youth. Time had allowed him to speak of those days and of the war, and she recorded it all on cassette tapes. Thus was born the desire within her to pursue and preserve the stories, photographs and articles of the past.

A large empty basement became known by her children and 11 grandchildren as "the genealogy cave". On those visits to care for Emmett, she would also frequent the Nashville archives. When time would allow, she and Bill traveled all over Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia in search of cemeteries, archives, libraries and an older generation that could share more details of the past with her. Her attention to detail made her into an extraordinary genealogist. Everything was a clue to the past -- to be preserved, labeled, and properly categorized and stored. She researched every line of both sides of her family as well as both sides of Bill's family. Her personal library included 150 3-inch volumes of documented research on 175 primary individuals from all over the southeastern United States. She made copies and shared countless volumes with every family member and libraries in many cities from which family roots grew. She grew to love her mother-in-law's large Mississippi James family and thus her connection with the Newton County Historical Society. In 2002, she and her husband Bill and all of her research moved to Springfield, Tennessee to be closer to her family. Even at 81 years old, she continued and finished the last of her work on the James family of Mississippi while corresponding with 1600 people to either share the family history or encourage them in time of sadness or joy. She was a determined woman with an amazing gift for creating great things by meticulously using every small moment of her time.

In February of 2005, the last page of her research ended with the inclusion of a final obituary, that of her own. It has been said "that each find helped teach me that I am who I am because they were who they were". She truly inspired all because of who she was and for that we as a family have truly been blessed.


[1] We want to thank Charlotte Patillo Gray, wife of James Travis Gray, and daughter-in-law of Dr. Margaret Gray for preparing this tribute.


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