Beaufort woman known as quiet leader who helped build Grayco Hardware dies

Joyce Gray, matriarch of one of Beaufort’s leading business and philanthropic families, died Saturday.

Gray came to Beaufort as a young woman right out of the University of South Carolina to teach school, and married Port Royal native Richard Gray Sr.

Together, they built his Beaufort Muffler and Auto Supply business, started about 55 years ago with a $5,000 loan from her father, into Grayco Hardware & Home and Grayco Building Supply with locations in Beaufort, Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Ridgeland, Savannah and Augusta.

When he was given the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce’s highest honor, the 2013 Lifetime of Leadership award, and the company they founded earned an award for excellence in free enterprise, Richard Gray said, “We are here for Beaufort and the citizens of Beaufort, and charity is number one in our hearts.”

“She was always a huge part of the companies, even when the boardroom was her living room with a playpen in it,” said her daughter, Suzanne Gray Burns Wilkie of Beaufort.

When Joyce Gray noticed that the store was open on Easter Sunday, she was appalled, Suzanne said. She made a phone call. The store was closed immediately, and never again have they been open on Easter.

She was active in the Richard Gray Family Foundation, created around 2004 so that the philanthropy would continue after their passing. A couple of examples of the foundation’s giving include $50,000 to LowCountry Habitat for Humanity to build a house at Prince and Hamar streets in Beaufort, and 77 acres to the town of Hardeeville to build the Richard Gray Sports Complex.

Joyce and Richard Gray helped get the Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation’s Valentine Ball started, and hosted pre-ball dinner parties most years. The ball has raised some $5 million for the hospital.

Her four children and six of her nine grandchildren were born at Beaufort Memorial, and she grew up in a medical family in Barnwell.

Her father, Dr. Herbert A. Gross, was for many years Barnwell’s primary physician, and he helped start a hospital there.

Joyce Gray, who was 85, was a cheerleader at the University of South Carolina and a lifelong fan of Gamecocks basketball and football.

When she and a group of Carolina friends were looking for teaching jobs, the late Marvin Dukes told them there were jobs in Beaufort.

As the family story goes, Joyce soon caught Richard Gray’s eye. But because she had other dates, she turned him down three times. He almost gave up, but was convinced to try one more time.

Joyce was known to be a quiet person, but devoted to family, attending years of ball games to watch her children and grandchildren play. She was a member of the Beaufort Female Benevolent Society and the Parish Church of St. Helena. She was a supporter of Beaufort Academy and the Historic Beaufort Foundation.

She was an excellent cook, and loved to host dinner parties. She also liked to play bridge.

Joyce Gray was diagnosed with lung cancer about 18 months ago, her daughter Suzanne said. She went through two rounds of treatment, but “it was relentless,” she said.

“She was bigger than life to us,” Suzanne said.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale