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Gray Gala Provides Fitting Goodbye

Rebecca M. Vest presents outgoing Chairman of the Corporation Paul E. Gray '54 with a gift at a tribute in his honor on Tuesday at Walker Memorial.

By Ramy A. Arnaout
Senior Editor

It's not often that the top MIT brass throw a party for one of their own, but Tuesday afternoon they did, and with style. This was no mere post-faculty-meeting wine-and-cheese social, although both claret and brie flowed freely. This was collegial. For awhile, almost posh. Almost - shudder - Harvard.

Well, at least until the earring, the drinking song, and the joke about the testicles and Mr. Whitehead brought everyone back to earth.

The reception honored Paul E. Gray '54, the stocky soon-to-be-former chairman of the Corporation, and his wife, Priscilla, hailed during the evening as "MIT's mother goose," for their four-plus decades of service to the Institute.

Over 250 well-wishers flocked to Walker Memorial Tuesday afternoon to greet the guests of honor, schmooze, and enjoy the free, uh, brouhaha.

Most of the guests were anonymous old friends of the Grays, although some social-climbing students, not all of whom with ties to the Undergraduate Association, and many senior faculty members also attended.

On hand, too, were a host of administrators, including President Charles M. Vest and his wife, Rebecca; Senior Associate Dean Robert M. Randolph and Provost Joel Moses PhD '67, both big as life; and, later, Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams.

Walker decked out for the show

The hall itself was a sight to see. Hardly recognizable after the lavish and caring ministrations of MIT catering and Physical Plant, Walker was a place transformed.

An arch of balloons, white, purple, and green, met visitors just inside the outer door; the daffodils and guestbook - apparently leatherbound - both contributed to the impression that someone had paid close attention to the little things, and wanted the guests to do the same.

It was an impression the six-foot free-standing Roman column did little to dispel.

Inside the softly-lit main hall, groves of columns and wild flowers gave the party an almost Mediterranean feel. In the middle of the room, two huge tables were piled high with pastries and sweetmeats. On one side, a wet bar served all comers. Yes, all.

At the back, Former Associate Provost and accomplished trombonist Samuel J. Keyser and his band added a touch more class with some tasteful swing. Overhead, a digital slideshow took viewers on a walk down the Grays' memory lane: The couple selling T-shirts, laughing with friends, strolling arm-in-arm through Killian Court.

Guests wore tweed, laughed politely, and sipped wine. Through it all weaved tuxedoed waiters, platters full of breaded foods with French names.

Paul Gray, this is your life

After about an hour, guests took their seats as the reception segued into a tribute to the Grays.

There was a lot to say. Gray has been at the Institute for all but two years since 1950, when he entered as a freshman. He went on to earn two higher degrees and become a professor of electrical engineering, along the way earning a reputation as a dedicated teacher.

He has carried that reputation through a number of administrative posts, including president through most of the 1980s and chairman of the Corporation since. The 65-year-old plans to step down in June to focus once again on teaching.

What could have turned into a tear-jerking love-fest instead turned out instead to be a heartfelt, genial tribute, thanks in part to Vest. He set the pace for the evening by presenting Gray with a gift of a body-wear earring - to keep him in touch with what kids are wearing these days, he said. Gray promptly stuck it on his nose.

"Paul has a wonderful sense of humor, available at times when it's seriously needed," said the next speaker, Institute Professor Emeritus Francis E. Low. There was the time he and Gray drove all night in a snowstorm, for example, to secure an affiliation between MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Sciences.

Low then said something a little unexpected.

"That reminds me of the lady who went to see the dentist," Low said. The dentist approaches the lady, seated in the dentist's chair, and then backs away. "Madam, he said, you're holding my testicles,' he says. She says, Yes, doctor. And we're not going to hurt each other, are we?'" At any rate, he said, the deal went through. Well.

Chorallaries commemorate Gray

For a change of pace, the Chorallaries serenaded Gray with soaring renditions of Rubber Duckie - one of Gray's favorites - and the Engineers' Drinking Song.

Gray later said that he could think of at least two alumni during the 1980s whose diplomas he in fact signed Rubber Duckie.

Mrs. Gray also received the high praise and admiration of the assembled company for being, in the words of Corporation Secretary Kathryn A. Willmore, "a partner to Paul, an ambassador to MIT all around the world, and a model of MITcaring and service."

Mrs. Vest cited Mrs. Gray's "insight and inspiration," "sunny smile," "intimate wisdom," and love, as well as all the appetites she "assuaged throughout the years" through what must be excellent food.

The guests of honor were clearly touched by the attention and praise. "This has been a lovely party," Mrs. Gray said. "The flowers are beautiful and so are you."

Gray then took the podium. "MIT is thought of, remembered in so many ways. Boston Tech. The premier institution of applied science and engineering in the nation. One of the world's great research universities. Tech Is Hell,' and its modern equivalent, which Ishall not repeat.

"It is the people who make the place, give it its spirit and personality," Gray said. "Thank you so much for being here tonight; thank you for this occasion, your kind remarks. You have been our friends for so long, and we look forward to nothing very much changing come June 1."

And with that came to a close a great afternoon of great finger food, as well as a commemoration of an era.