Helen T. Gray, the longtime religion editor of the “Kansas City Star,” died on Saturday at age 81. When she was hired in 1965, Gray was paper’s second black reporter and its first black female reporter. In 1971 she was named the religion editor, a position she held until her retirement in early 2013.
“It’s a loss for Kansas City,” former colleague Mary Lou Nolan said. “She was an amazing force as a religion writer and editor. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a journalist who was as gracious and warmhearted as Helen. “It was really a distinctive thing about her.”
Gray, a native of New Jersey, graduated from Syracuse University with degrees in journalism and political science. She minored in religion and later earned a master’s degree in international relations from Columbia University in New York.
During her tenure as faith editor, Gray reported on major faith organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the ordination of women, the upheaval and cultural changes in the Catholic Church. In 1968, she famously interviewed Martin Luther King, Jr. while walking down a corridor at the downtown airport. Her work was recognized by press associations in Kansas and Missouri. She received awards from several groups, including the Religion News Association.
Gray was married to a Baptist minister, David L. Gray, who served as pastor of Pleasant Green Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan., from 1959 to 1996 before he died. Gray taught Sunday School for more than 40 years until her health began to decline, said Jarvis L. Collier, the church’s current pastor.
“She was a consummate pastor’s wife, a consummate Christian and a prayer warrior,” Collier said. “I have nothing but sadness and appreciation for her contribution to the life of our church.”
Former Star editor and columnist Bill Tammeus stated on Facebook, “It was my privilege to work with her covering religion the last few years of my full-time work at The Kansas City Star.”
Relatives and friends remembered Gray as a woman of deep religious faith who found strength in serving the church and helping others. “She was first and foremost a wonderful and caring, spiritual individual,” her brother Ron Gott said.
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice