It began when she flirted with a tall, handsome toll booth collector on one span of the Thousand Islands Bridge in upstate New York.
She took the E-ZPass lane to his heart. They married June 14, 1980.
Thirty-four years later, they celebrated their wedding anniversary doing what they love most. They opened their Hardesty Estates home in Davidsonville and its 2-acre emerald greensward of a yard to nearly 100 people. They hosted the U.S. Naval Academy Parents Club of Maryland's annual "Welcome Aboard" picnic for 19 local incoming Class of 2018 members, their parents and family, USNA alumni and officials, and club members.
The Grays are active members of the club, which includes parents of current midshipmen and graduates. Plus, midshipmen sponsors are welcomed as auxiliary members.
Beth Gray is the club's current president. The website is maryland.usnaparents.com.
One of its most popular functions is the tailgate at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium the club co-hosts at every Navy home football game with the Parents Clubs of New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania. The combined group stages a mass, nonalcoholic social event. During and after each game, the clubs offer a feast of homemade food, grilled meats, desserts and sodas to between 500 to 1,200 midshipmen. While waiting for the hungry hordes to arrive, members socialize at the large tailgate site or go watch the game.
During the academic year, longer-tenured members of the Maryland club welcome and give practical been-there-done-that advice to parents of incoming plebes - and to the parents of midshipmen about to graduate to help them prepare for the Commissioning Week ceremonies and activities.
The Grays have no biological children of their own, but, since 1998, have been sponsor-parents to dozens of midshipmen, including a 2005 graduate from Honduras and Katie Whitcombe of Arizona, who graduated in 2013 and is now a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England.
During her plebe year, Whitcombe's parents moved back to their homeland in the Philippines with her two younger brothers. With her family half a world away, Whitcombe's relationship with the Grays deepened. She stayed at the Gray residence on weekends and over holiday and vacation periods.
Homesick for their own homeland, her brothers returned to the U.S. several years ago. The older one enrolled at Arizona State University. The Grays agreed to become legal guardians of the younger one, Lionel Whitcombe, who lives with the couple and attends South River High School.
The Grays arrived in Maryland in the early 1990s after Dave Gray was transferred by his employer. Missing the water views of the Thousand Lakes region, they were drawn to the Annapolis area.
Dave Gray is now with American Solutions for Business, a promotional product distributorship. Beth Gray works in the Software Control department of the Maryland Department of Child Support Enforcement Control.
The Grays were barely aware of the Naval Academy or its sponsor program when they purchased their gracious, 2-story home in Davidsonville in 1994. Built as a model house in 1992, the Grays are the residence's first owners. Although sited near a busy, South County intersection, the property feels miles away from the rat race. The 4-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath center hall colonial is cozy and welcoming whether it's a quiet weeknight for the Grays, Whitcombe and Sophie, their 4-year old Chesapeake Bay retriever; or a weekend with a houseful of Sponsor-Mids and their classmates.
Pulling up the cul de sac, it's easy to tell which house is Chez Gray.
It's the one with the Parents Club trailer parked outside. The Grays will use to the trailer to haul pop-up canopies, grills, chairs, tables, food and supplies to this fall's five Navy home football games.
A walkway leads from the 2-car attached garage to the front of the house, framed by manicured shrubbery and dotted with blooming knockout roses.
At the front door, a tri-panel of clear, beveled, glass forming a rippled circle, is a doormat. "No pin heads" it says.