A man who had a profound impact on Conimicut will be remembered at a memorial service this Saturday at Woodbury Union Church at 11 a.m.
Alexander Gray III, who died Dec. 7, 2012, was a member of a local group headed by the Rev. William Lover that formed the Conimicut Village Association and started an annual Labor Day festival that brought the neighborhood together while paying tribute to the role of unions and the working man. Gray ran the festival for many years. For a while, the Rotary Club of Warwick assisted, but after a couple of stormy Labor Days and a thinning of the ranks of volunteers, its support ceased.
But the role Gray had in bringing it together hasn't died. The village association remains active today, hosting activities such as village cleanups, concerts and the Christmas tree lighting. Through its fundraising efforts, largely a Spring Fling dinner and gathering attended by more than 100, the association pays for the floral decorations that hang from village lampposts during the summer and are decorated for the Christmas season.
Gray, who served as the association president from 1997 to 2006, was a quiet man who made his presence felt through his insightful questions and unwavering focus on the Conimicut community. That gift was recognized by the City Council in a resolution of appreciation presented in 2006.
In part it reads, "He helped set in motion the multi-year development of the Conimicut Village Master Plan, implementing a 'village' concept for the core of the area which encouraged mixed use development of residential and retail."
Those concepts have been incorporated in a form of village zoning, which has since been enacted by the City Council, that amends parking and building code regulations to enable small businesses and private residents to occupy the same building.
Prior to the zoning, Gray assisted in coordinating the Community Development Block Grant Program for façade improvements to the village. Those grants were also used to make street-front improvements, including the planting of ornamental pear trees that shower the village center with their white spring blossoms each year and the installation of street lanterns.
"He was always there to assist," said CVA president Ginny Barham. While she did not serve on the association board when Gray was president, Barham said Gray's knowledge of the association's history was always helpful.
"He was a history buff," says Juanita, Gray's wife of 38 years.
She said he always took an interest in the community's history and in preserving it. But he also took an interest in moving the community forward. She recalled her late husband's work with the community police station and obtaining bicycle helmets for neighborhood children. Especially memorable, she said, are the many hours that went into planning and running the festival.
"The day after the festival, he would start working on the next one," she said.
She said their son, Alexander Gray IV, would be speaking at the service. And, because of Alex's love for bagpipe music, a bagpiper will be present.
Dianne McLaughlin, who served on the board with Gray, remembers his "continuity" and how he held the group together when membership had dwindled to only a few people.
"He was a steadying force," she said of Gray. In particular, she cited his work with the city and use of Community Development Block Grant funds that enabled the transformation of the village into what it is today.
"If it wasn't for Alex," she said of the association, "it would have died out. He never gave up on it."
Beverly Cottam, who also worked with Gray on the board, recalls his commitment to the organization and the village.
"His heart and soul was in it," she said.
In addition to his wife and son, Gary is survived by a daughter-in-law, Sarah Wentz of Raleigh, N.C.; sister and brother-in-law, Lynda and Jack Sterrett of Georgia; niece Ashley Sterrett-Ortiz and her family, Jose, Alex and Lauren, all of Florida.