Kelly Gray, a registered nurse whose career at Johns Hopkins Hospital spanned more than three decades, died Sept. 27 of metastatic uterine cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She was 56.
"Kelly definitely always had a smile on her face and was optimistic," said Kristi A. Amend of Mount Airy, who worked alongside Ms. Gray at Hopkins. "When she was going through her treatments, she'd say, 'Failure is not an option.' That became her motto, and she wouldn't let people know how sick she was."
"Her death is a huge loss for our community. Kelly always put everyone else first," said Kara L. Bolonda of Timonium, a registered nurse and co-worker.
The daughter of Lloyd Orson Ober, a General Electric Corp. draftsman, and Janice Mott Ober, a homemaker, Kelly Ober was born and raised in South Burlington, Vt., where she graduated in 1977 from South Burlington High School.
She earned her nursing degree in 1982 from the University of Vermont, and during that time was a runner-up in the Miss Vermont pageant in 1981.
In 1982, she came to Hopkins and worked in several surgical units before spending the past 14 years caring for patients in its Marburg Pavilion.
For the past 23 years, Ms. Gray and her husband, Herbert Darius "Dare" Gray, had lived in Shrewsbury, Pa.
She worked a day-night rotation, but when her children were young she worked the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. evening shift and, when she worked days, her hours were 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
"She told us she was so tired after work that she couldn't make it to Pennsylvania, so she'd pull into the Chili's parking lot in Timonium and take a nap," Ms. Amend said.
Patients under Ms. Gray's care included royalty from Middle Eastern countries as well as politicians, business executives, movie stars and other high-profile notables, said her husband, who is also a registered nurse and who met his future wife during an orientation session for new hires at Hopkins in 1982.
"She was very diplomatic when working with patients and was very good with them, and many of her former patients became friends on Facebook. She definitely and clearly made an impact on them and kept in touch with many of them," Ms. Amend said. "When I set up a Go Fund Me [web page] to help Kelly's family, many of them contributed to it. They wanted to give and help."
She said her friend and colleague had a delightful, playful side to her nature.
"At our early-morning meetings, she'd come in and sit through them putting on her makeup, all the while saying, 'I don't know how you girls do this so early in the day,'" Ms. Amend said. "I do the scheduling and she always wanted to work April Fool's Day so she could play tricks on the staff."
Co-workers recalled that Ms. Gray had a distinctive and memorable laugh.
"It was very unique, and she used it to laugh things off when things got tense. It really broke the tension," Ms. Amend said. "Ever since she died, we all swear we can still hear her laughter."
Ms. Bolonda had worked with Ms. Gray in the Marburg Pavilion for the last 12 years.
"She was vibrant and energized every room she entered. She was compassionate and instantly established a rapport with her patients. Wherever she was, she had that wonderful laugh," said Ms. Bolonda.
"I think what set her apart was that she always saw the good in everybody. She advocated for her patients and defended underdogs passionately," Ms. Bolonda said. "She was a pit bull when it came to patient care. She always had their best interests at heart."
Ms. Gray stopped working in January after she was diagnosed with the cancer that ended her life.
"We were determined to use day care as little as possible so we both planned out work schedules as much as possible around the caring of our children," said Mr. Gray, who is nurse manager of the endoscopy laboratory at York Hospital in York, Pa.
"I worked days and Kelly worked evenings and nights. In spite of working shift work, Kelly remained active not only with her children but also with the community," he said.
"She was an active member of the Shrewsbury Elementary School PTO and received a national award for her efforts regarding Box Tops for Education," he said. "She was also active in the Girl Scout Troop 456 and had been an assistant troop leader."
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
A celebration of Ms. Gray's life will be held at 4 p.m. Nov. 14 at the New Freedom VFW Post, 123 W. Main St., New Freedom, Pa.
In addition to her husband of 30 years, she is survived by two sons, Cameron Darius Gray of Pittsburgh and Ian McKenzie Gray of West Chester, Pa.; a daughter, Jordan K. Vogel of Baltimore; and two sisters, Lorri Stenton of Pawling, N.Y., and Penny Bourgeois of Williston, Vt.; and two nieces.