Sara E. Gray, who rose from teaching science to become coordinator of guidance for Baltimore City public schools, died Sept. 6 in her sleep at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. The longtime Forest Park resident was 84.
"Sara was a great person and a very likable person,' said Carolyn W. Boston, who retired in 1984 as coordinator of guidance services for Baltimore City schools. “She was also very organized and knowledgeable about what she was doing. And when she came into the Central Office, she was working with staff, principals, college personnel, business community and the General Assembly. She was in a big leadership role, and it’s not an easy job.”
Michael A. Franko, who was head director of guidance counseling at Western High School for 40 years, was a close friend and colleague of Mrs. Gray’s.
“Sara was a wonderful person who was sweet, funny, and very insightful,” said Mr. Franko, an Oakenshawe resident. “She saw problems for what they were and cut through the nonsense and found solutions. She was never heavy-handed and like the good counselor that she was, listened.”
The former Sara Elaine Bragg, the daughter of Marcellus Guy Bragg, a Baltimore Afro-American Linotype operator who later worked for the Government Printing Office, and his wife, Juliet Amanda Jackson Bragg, who taught English at Pimlico Junior High School, was born in Houston, Texas, and when she was 10 months old moved to Cumberland Street in the city’s Druid Heights and Penn-North neighborhood.
“Sara began school at the William M. Alexander Elementary School where her early interests included drama, public speaking, library work and athletics,” a daughter, Gina Gray Granger of Westbury, New York, wrote in a biographical profile of her mother. “After completing elementary school, she enrolled in the Booker T. Washington Junior High School where she made lifelong friendships and excelled academically.”
After completing junior high school in two years instead of three, Mrs. Gray graduated in 1951 from Frederick Douglass High School at 16 and was awarded a four-year scholarship to what was then Morgan State College.
“She continued to thrive, excel socially and academically,” her daughter wrote, and “In 1952, she was featured in Color Magazine’s ‘A Day in the Life of a Debutante.’ ”
She was 20 when she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1955 from Morgan, and began her career in education teaching science at Garrison Junior High School.
Mrs. Gray also worked as a receptionist in a dental office where she met a dentist, Dr. Raymond L. Grave, with whom she fell in love with and married in 1956.
While on maternity leave, she had a conversation with her mother, who urged her to obtain a master’s degree in counseling, which she earned in 1980 from the Johns Hopkins University.
Mrs. Gray, who had been a guidance counselor at Gwynn Falls Park Junior High School, came to Western as a guidance counselor in 1968.
“She was the first African American counselor at Western and there was some resistance,” Mr. Franko recalled. “She won over the kids, that was never a problem, and eventually the faculty and the whole staff.”
Mrs. Gray was named a guidance staff specialist in 1970, and took up her duties in an office in the 2400 block of St. Paul St.
“Her focus was always, ‘What are we going to do for the kids to make their lives better? And how can we help the kids of Baltimore City?’ She wanted to find strategies to make it work,” said Mr. Franko, who retired from Western in 1995. “She never got puffed up over her position. If there was something she did not know, she’d seek help. She never bluffed her way through anything. She had a light touch.”
When Mrs. Boston retired in 1984, it was Mrs. Gray who was appointed to fill her position as coordinator of guidance services for city public schools.
“When she had worked for me, counselors respected her abilities. She helped them initiate programs that furthered our students,” Mrs. Boston said. “She was an outstanding educator, she really was, and could approach anyone. Everybody was happy with her.”
Mr. Franko said that for 15 years, he and Mrs. Gray met each August at Haussner’s to have dinner and plan strategy and goals for the coming academic year.
“She had never been there and the first time she came I mentioned the fried eggplant, which she liked,” he said with a laugh. “I suggested their famous strawberry pie for dessert and she ordered fried eggplant. Thereafter, we did that every time.”
In 1986, she was inducted into Phi Delta Kappa International, a member-based association whose mission is to prepare the “next generation of educational leaders through visionary leadership, research and service,” her daughter wrote.
Mrs. Gray received the Maryland School Counselors Advocate of the Year award in 1992 from the Maryland School Counselors Association. She also received that year the Bernard P. Ireland Recognition Award from the Middle States Regional Assembly of the College Board in recognition of outstanding guidance to young people.
She was a member of the College Board’s advisory minority counseling board and was a member of the National Forum Planning Committee, and the College Board’s College Majors Publication and College Scholarship Services. As a member of the state Department of Education’s Advisory Committee, she reviewed the department’s regulations.
“She volunteered her time coordinating the annual Maxwell House Historically Black College Fair,” her daughter wrote. “This fair gave Baltimore City students opportunities to explore college opportunities and possibilities.”
She was an active member of the Baltimore alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, with her mother. She was also an active member of the Girl Friends Inc., the National Smart Set, Philomathians, Bon-Bons, Modern Grannies, Lunch Bunch and several bridge clubs.
Until moving a little more than a year ago from her Mohawk Avenue home to her daughter’s home in Westbury, Mrs. Gray enjoyed vegetable gardening, completing crossword puzzles and “talking on the telephone,” her daughter said.
Her husband died in 2015.
Mrs. Gray was a lifelong member of Metropolitan United Methodist Church, 1121 W. Lanvale Street, where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.