On 103rd birthday, Fountain man says perseverance, activity key to longevity

March 9, 2014 Updated: March 10, 2014 at 7:00 am
photo - Roy Gray's open house was a very full house filled with friends and family to celebrate his 103rd birthday. In his retirement years, Roy loved to sing and play with his group called "The Country Jammers". Sherre Fridley (left) holds the cake while Roy blows out the last candle at the party on Sunday, March 9, 2014.  (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Roy Gray's open house was a very full house filled with friends and family to celebrate his 103rd birthday. In his retirement years, Roy loved to sing and play with his group called "The Country Jammers". Sherre Fridley (left) holds the cake while Roy blows out the last candle at the party on Sunday, March 9, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

Roy Gray of Fountain hands out his business card, no matter that he has been retired 37 years.

The card says:

No business. No plans. Ain't got much. Ain't mad at nobody. No worries. No money. Don't want much. Ain't running from nothing. It's accented with a drawing of a guitar and the name of his old band Country Jammers.

"That about sums it up," he says, all duded out in cowboy hat and boots to celebrate his 103rd birthday with friends Sunday.

Earlier, he reflected on a life that started in Kansas on March 11, 1911.

He spent much of his youth in Cedarville which he explains, "had a 1,100 population counting the chickens."

Just to show how times have change and how he changed with the times, consider that as a kid he rode his horse, Brownie, two miles to the country schoolhouse. By the time he was 12, he was working in a blacksmith shop and eventually went on to help land a man on the moon. Most recently, he has been learning to use a computer. And always along the way there was his guitar, six-finger banjo and harmonica.

Gray is an enthusiastic and entertaining storyteller, and easily talks for two-and-a-half hours with nary a moment needed to look for words or recall names, places or dates.

With prompting he sings something by his favorite country musician Hank Williams, with the gentle whoosh of his oxygen tank as the only accompaniment.

Neighbors, old band members and other friends crowded into his home for the birthday party. Someone brought a homemade cake shaped like a guitar.

Longtime friend Bill Dicks, 85, of Widefield, played in Roy's band for more than two decades. He'd known him back in Wichita long ago.

"What I like about him is he is an honest person and he says what he thinks," Dicks said.

"Roy is sharp as a tack," said Sherre Fridley, one of several certified nurse assistants who come in during the week. "He's humorous and keeps us in stitches."

He has kept himself in stitches on occasion. He fell and messed up a vertebra back in November. He's had two heart attacks and bypass surgery.

But still, like his stories, his steps never falter as he navigates the rented house he has lived in for many decades.

"Don't tell them I forgot to use my walker," he said conspiratorially.

He was the oldest of three kids.

"The rest are all dead," he said. His father and mother separated, and he spent time living with grandparents and an uncle when his mother was in a tuberculosis sanitorium.

He was only 12 when he worked in a blacksmith shop, not strong enough to do the heavy metal work.

"I was the cooling man. I threw water on the metal to cool it down. Plows, cotton sweepers."

When his mother remarried, his stepfather didn't want him around. So at 16, he quit school and worked as cowboy, farm hand, oilfield worker and erected telephone poles.

"I had to do it," he said. "It was root hog or die."

But he eventually finished high school and his machine-shop class experience helped him get his first job in the aircraft industry.

He tells how he went to a dance one night all dressed up. A girl asked his friend who that good-looking guy was. Roy recalls, "That pretty girl said, 'Tell him I am the best dancer here.' Well I said, How about a dance. And that was that."

He married Avis in 1935.

Roy drove until he was 100 years old. But it was airplanes that always fascinated him.

Being in his early 30s, he wasn't drafted for World War II, but joined the Army Air Corps anyway. He was stationed several places, including Wichita Air Field.

"Gen. Harris was my general and I helped inspect planes. When the war was over, on Aug. 31, 1945, I was told due to no more hostilities my duty was complete. I was in two years and eight months."

Over the years, he worked in quality assurance and other positions for aircraft companies or their contractors. Among them Stearman Aircraft Corp., Boeing, Sperry Rand.

"My name was on the moon" he said, a bit mischievously, but proudly, too. It's not his name, but his assurance quality inspection number on the vehicle cameras, meaning, he explained that it passed his group's scrutiny.

"My number was on the radio beacon that John Glenn used when he orbited the earth the first time, too. I was a quality assurance analyst for Sperry Rand."

He also inspected Minuteman missiles, and because he was so well-versed in aircraft, taught some college classes without a degree.

He retired at age 66, and eventually he and Avis moved to Fountain to be closer to family.

He loves to play darts and to bowl, and has won all sorts of trophies. He also liked to fish on Pueblo Reservoir.

Avis died about 24 years ago, and their oldest daughter Mary, two years ago. A son, Rodney, lives in Fountain, and daughter Jane Payne resides in Washington. He has numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. His great-great-great-grandson Grayson, who is 3 years old, was named after him.

When Avis died, he said, "It was pretty tough for some time." But he has kept busy like he always had. He says his philosophy is two words: Perseverance and activity.

"You have to push yourself because I think it's all up here," he adds, pointing to his head.

His living room is filled with citations and awards he has received from civic and city for his volunteer work. Last year, he was grand marshal of the Labor Day festivities in Fountain.

He had his various bands have played for many community events, and at nursing homes. He has been a member of the Masons for more than 70 years.

He has lived in the same house that he rented when he first came to Fountain about 31 years ago.

"I owned a house once long ago, but I had to move around so much that I never did it again."

The homeowner of his rental place passed away, and now the son has it. "He told me his daddy said I could live here as long as I want." He has a grave plot next to his wife's in the Fountain cemetery. "The stone came clear from Alabama," he said.


Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371. Twitter @mcgrawatgazette

Facebook: Carol McGraw

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