A Chance To Say Goodbye

Today day was a chance to say goodbye. Several hundred family, friends, teammates and fans of former WVU quarterback Chris Gray packed the Thomas Room of the Puskar Center at Mountaineer Field Thursday.

They were there for a memorial service for the 32-year-old Gray, who was one of over 6,000 persons who perished in the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Old teammates like Tom Robsock, Mark Ulmer, Jim LeBlanc, Jose Avila, Alex Shook, Jake Kelchner, Willie Edwards, Glen McNew, Undra Johnson, Lee Javins and many others were in attendance. Don Nehlen, Dwight Wallace, Fred Schaus, Ed Pastilong, David Hardesty and Rich Rodriguez were some of the University notables who came to pay their respects. And Chris' family also made the trip down from Manalapan, N.J. to be a part of the ceremony.

It was the second memorial service the family had gone through in the past five days, as more than 1,200 people were on hand last Saturday for a service in New Jersey.

With the scoreboard in the background reading "Chris Gray, #16, 2/4/69 – 9/11/01" in the background, a series of speakers came to the podium to remember Gray, who was working for the ill-fated firm of Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th Floor of Tower One of the WTC at the time of the attacks. More than 700 of Cantor's employees were lost in the events of that day.

Mountaineer play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi served as officiant for the ceremony. Coach Rodriguez also spoke, as did three of Chris' friends – myself, Rex Hartley and Jeff Berryman.

These past days, it's been a struggle to document the words to express the grief that I and all of Chris' friends – and there were so many – felt over his loss.

I summed up these emotions in my portion of the eulogy. I guess there is no better way to express these feelings than simply to share with you what I said on Thursday.

"First of all, I want to thank everyone for coming. Our shared grief is our bond, and through these difficult times, the ability to lean on others has helped us to somehow make it through.

"I also want to thank everyone at West Virginia University for helping us coordinate this service. Delania Bierer, Will Armistead, Donnie Young, Gary MacPherson, Mike Parsons, Ed Pastilong, Shelly Poe, President Hardesty, Rich Rodriguez, Coach Nehlen and every one else, thanks for your assistance in helping put this together. Your generosity and compassion have been greatly appreciated.

"I also want to thank the Chris's parents, Jim and Janet Gray, as well as his brothers Jay and Tim, and Chris' fiancée, Kelly Gangwer. We truly appreciate you allowing us to hold this memorial service and for making the trip to Morgantown to attend. You've already had one service for Chris back in New Jersey, and I know putting you through it a second time is difficult.

"But many of us here in West Virginia could not attend this past Saturday's service, yet we also need a chance at closure, a chance to say good-bye properly. Thank you for allowing us to do so, and for being here to help us remember Chris and to celebrate his life.

"Obviously the tragedy that took place on Sept. 11 affected more than just few people in a couple of isolated locations. It affected all of America. And we grieve for all the victims of these terrible acts. Yet while were grieve for the thousands, we mourn for one, our friend, Chris Gray. Someday the pain of his loss will subside, and in its place will return memories of the laughter, the smiles, the mannerisms, the person. I see them still and always will, and I'll always hold them near. Chris was a special person to everyone in this room, or you would not be here today, so you know what I'm speaking of.

"The purpose of this service is not necessarily to mourn his passing but to celebrate his life. We'll all shed a few more tears today, of that I'm sure, but I don't want to remember Chris exclusively with tears. I've cried enough these past few weeks. Chris was a man of joy and laughter, and that's how I want to remember him.

"I still remember the exact moment I was officially introduced to Chris. It was the spring of 1990. I was here at Mountaineer Field in the weightroom, as I often am, interviewing some players after a spring practice session. Glen McNew, Jr., a WVU quarterback and a mutual friend who played on our softball team, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Greg, I'd like you to meet Chris Gray. He'd like to play softball with us if we have room on the team."

"That moment proved to be a crossroads for many people here in this room. That one small, seemingly insignificant moment actually proved extremely significant. Our circles intersected, and I can trace back many a friendship for myself and many others in this room to that very moment. It changed our lives, and changed them for the better.

"Those first couple of years, through my role as a reporter, I also covered Chris' progress as a player. I saw the frustration of the injuries that kept him from obtaining what he wanted the most – playing time. But in 1991, it finally came together. He got his chance during his senior season, and he proved to be a good college quarterback. That was proven when he signed a free agent contract with the team he had rooted for as a child, the Miami Dolphins.

"After football was finished, Chris returned to Morgantown to complete his education. Eventually he obtained not only a bachelor's degree but also a master's in education from WVU. Chris would have been an excellent teacher, I'm sure of that, but the financial rewards of being a broker would have been hard for any of us to pass up. That path led him back to New Jersey, a place that was his home with his family and friends that he held dear.

"But Morgantown and West Virginia were also special to Chris, especially the people here. Over the years, since he returned to New Jersey, we talked often of him possibly moving back to West Virginia. I'm sure he would have done so at some point, but it was always something for the future. Certainly there was plenty of time for that down the road. We had our entire lives in front of us, after all.

"But 23 days ago, the future took a turn that none of us could have foreseen. And now we mourn the passing of a son, a brother, a fiancée, a teammate, a friend. It's hard to imagine a moment more terrible than this. But I'm sure you'll all agree that there is a moment that would have been much worse, and that's the one that fortunately didn't take place. The worst thing that could have happened would have been if Chris hadn't come into our lives, if we hadn't gotten a minute of that smile, an hour of his stories, the 32 years of joy and laughter. No, 32 years wasn't enough. We were all cheated, because we wanted more, we deserved more, Chris deserved more. But I am thankful that I got what I did. The time was fleeting and much too short, but it was a magnificent time that I will hold dear until the moment comes that we all meet again in eternity. Boy, he'll have some stories to tell then, of that I'm sure.

"I want to thank you all for coming. Mr. & Mrs. Gray, Tim, Jay, Kelly, nothing I can say will ease the pain. I understand that. But as you look around this room, just as you looked around the room filled with 1,200 people at the service back in New Jersey this past Saturday, please realize that all these people cared deeply about Chris, and he cared about them. His life meant something; it touched people. And though we wish he could have spent another 70 years with us, he leaves us all better for the time he was here. And when all is said and done, isn't that what's really important?

"I won't stand here and tell you that I can understand the ways of God or the meaning of life. That calls for someone far more intelligent and insightful than I. The one conviction that I've always held, though, was that it was our purpose in life to make this world a better place. If we've done that, then we've been successful.

"The Ancient Egyptians believed in something similar. They thought that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife. The first question was, ‘Did you bring joy?' The second was, ‘Did you find joy?'

"I think we all know what the answers were for Chris Gray."

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