The man whose name graces the stadium that houses Roseburg’s Legion Field is remembered fondly by those who knew him.
Bill Gray spent 34 years as a member of the Roseburg Legion Commission, serving as chairman for many of those years. He played a pivotal role in bringing the American Legion World Series to Roseburg in 1974, 1993 and 1996.
Gray spearheaded efforts to repair the wooden Legion Field grandstands, which were heavily damaged in the 1964 floods. Gray received donations from the community, and the grandstands were rebuilt in 1969 and done by the start of the 1970 season.
Gray was the recipient of the Rollie Truitt Baseball Award in 1994, honoring those who work behind the scenes.
Gray, who retired after the Legion World Series in 1996, died on Oct. 21, 2001, at a Corvallis nursing home. He was 80.
“Bill was a goer,” remembered Tom Donegan, who has been on the Legion commission for 15 years. “He was extremely well-connected and was really able to get things done. He was a heck of a guy and really nice to me. I know he intimidated some people, but he didn’t tolerate fools.”
“What you see is what you get,” Ralph Lesh, who was a longtime Legion commissioner before passing away in 2007, told The News-Review. “Bill’s a people person. He’s very sincere, and enjoys people of all kinds.”
Dan Withers was the head coach of Dr. Stewart’s for nine seasons, from 1977-81 and 1984-87. He compiled a record of 312-170, guiding the Docs to four state titles and a World Series appearance in 1984.
“Bill Gray was absolutely a first class individual,” said Withers. “He was calm, cool and collected ... had a warm personality, whoever he was dealing with. He had a knack for calming waters, so to speak, if the waters were rough.
“It’s appropriate the stadium is named after Bill. You couldn’t find nicer people than Bill and Charlotte Gray.”
The World Series proved to be a big hit in Roseburg. The 1993 ALWS (won by Rapid City, South Dakota) drew 34,306 fans, while 38,836 watched in ’96 (won by Yardley, Pennsylvania). Both were ALWS attendance records at the time.
Gray, the son of Noble and Freedia Gray, was born on Dec. 1, 1920, in Auburn, Indiana. He served in the South Pacific with the U.S. Navy during World War II. Bill married Charlotte Hundley in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 15, 1947.
Bill and Charlotte were married 54 years. Charlotte, 93, currently resides at Timberhill Place, an assisted living community in Corvallis.
“Bill loved it,” Charlotte Gray said of his time with the Legion program. “My husband liked people. You have to have some people who’ll put their heart and soul into it, and he had good people around him.”
Charlotte Gray added her husband enjoyed singing “Take Me out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning of games.
Bill Gray was a member of the Roseburg Park and Recreation Commission, and was selected Roseburg’s First Citizen in 1971. He was past president of the Roseburg Kiwanis Club and a member of the Roseburg Elks.
The Grays lived in Roseburg for 53 years.
“Dad lived and died with that (Legion) program,” said Chris Gray, one of Gray’s three children who graduated from Roseburg High.
Former Douglas County Commissioner Mike Winters, who still serves on the Legion Commission, called Gray “Mr. American Legion Baseball” following his death.
“That whole program evolved around him,” Winters told The News-Review. “He knew about the grass and the hot dogs and the equipment. He loved that part and the young men who played baseball there.”
Gray, who got a spot on the Legion commission in 1962, certainly left his mark.
“It was a nice program, a good program, exciting,” Gray told The News-Review in 1996. “I’ve always felt that, by golly, if you live in a community you should give something back. Roseburg has been good to me and Charlotte, and that’s my way of payback.”