Helen Jewel Gray, a retired nurse practitioner and educator who was an enthusiastic collector and wearer of millinery, died Sept. 6 from cancer at her Catonsville home. She was 92.
The former Helen Jewel White, the daughter of the Rev. John Westley White and his wife, Sadie Salena Philpot White, was born and raised in Monroe, Michigan.
After graduating from high school, she came to Baltimore to attend the old Provident Hospital’s Helene Fuld School of Nursing, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1955. Today, the nursing school is associated with Coppin State University.
Dr. Gray, who was known as Jewel, obtained a master’s degree in 1963 from the University of Maryland, College Park, from which she also earned a doctorate in education.
In 1963, she was appointed to the faculty of the University of Maryland Surgical Nursing Department and in 1969 was named assistant director of nursing education at St. Agnes Hospital. She retired in 1980 from the surgical nursing department at Maryland.
Dr. Gray served as an accreditation officer, president and chairman of the National League of Nursing. She was also a member of the American Nurses’ Association and the National League for Nursing, which presented her its Distinguished Service Award.
Her devotion to hats began in her childhood, when she had to wear hats that her mother made to school and church and also to ward off brutally cold Michigan winters.
“I wouldn’t think of going out without a hat,” Dr. Gray told The Baltimore Sun in a 1997 interview. “I love hats; I love them. I wear them all the time. People treat me differently when I wear them, like I’m ‘Miss Lady.’ ”
Dr. Gray explained in the interview that her favorite hats were those that belonged to her mother and her late sister-in-law and from those “who gave me hats when they were ill, to remember them by. I have hats from the 1920s. Oh, they’re gorgeous.”
She recalled facing discrimination while shopping for hats during the era of segregation in Baltimore.
“Once I tried to go into a department store to buy some hats and I had my roommate with me,” she told The Sun. “The clerks wouldn’t come near us. I went to the clerk and she said, ‘We don’t wait on colored people.' I was ready to get a picket line. I was a real rebel in those days and I did take part in civil rights protests and I wore my hats."
“Jewel believed that hats were works of art and artifacts of our culture,” her stepdaughter, Melanie Gray Jordon, who lives in Baltimore, wrote in a profile of Ms. Gray.
Ms. Jordon estimated that Dr. Gray’s collection topped out at more than 500 hats.
Dr. Gray was a founding member of the Pierians Inc. and a member of the Northeasteners and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
She left her body to the state anatomy board, and it was her wish that no funeral or memorial service be held, family members said.
In addition to her stepdaughter, Dr. Gray is survived by her husband of 20 years, Dr. Ronald K. Gray, a psychiatrist; a son, Herb Moseley of Catonsville; a daughter, Zola Hawkins of Long Beach, California; a stepson, Reggie Gray of Kansas City, Missouri; a sister, Jessie Rich of Philadelphia; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson. Her first husband, Dr. Herbert Lee Moseley Jr., an obstetrician and gynecologist, died in 1975. Her second husband of six years, Charles P. Howard Jr., a lawyer, died in 1996.