Leo Roger Gray, 92, departed this life Friday, September 23, 2016, with family by his side at his Coconut Creek, FL home. Leo was born May 30, 1924 in Boston, MA, the only child of Leo W. and Ralphia Mitchell Gray. He graduated from Boston English High School in 1942 and soon enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a private. After graduation from the Tuskegee Army Air Field Flying School as a 2nd Lieutenant Single Engine Pilot in Class 44-G (SE), he completed combat pilot training at Walterboro Army Air Field in Walterboro, S.C. He was stationed in Italy with the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, later known as the famed Red Tail pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen. He flew 15 combat missions over Europe before the War ended. Gray received the Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster, a Presidential Unit Citation, the Mediterranean Theatre of Operation ribbon with three battle stars, and the American Theatre and World War Il Victory ribbons. Separated from active duty in 1946, Lieutenant Colonel Gray retired from the United States Air Force Reserve with 41 years of military service.
Gray earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1950 from the University of Massachusetts and a Master of Arts Degree in 1952 from the University of Nebraska, where he was inducted into the Gamma Sigma Delta National Agricultural Honor Society. He did post-graduate work at the University of Maryland from 1962 to 1964.
Leo began his professional civilian career in 1953 in the field of Agricultural Economics with the Agricultural Extension Service, University of Massachusetts. He joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1954 as an Agricultural Economist and wore many hats over the course of time. Perhaps most notable was the pivotal part he played in the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Newcastle Disease Eradication Program in California. Most memorable and enjoyable to him was his time as an Economic Consultant to the U.S. Agency for International Development in West Africa (Senegal, Mali and Mauritania). Along the way, he founded and served as president of the Forum on Blacks in Agriculture and became Director of the Office of Program Planning, Food Safety and Quality Service. He retired from the USDA in 1984 with more than 30 years of service and numerous publications and awards to his credit.
His retirement lasted 32 years during which his passion was to empower and motivate youth, particularly toward careers in aviation and aerospace. He pursued that passion right up to the last month of his life by speaking nationally and internationally to audiences both young and old and by working through many organizations providing mentoring and scholarship money to young people. He was a Board member and lifetime member of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the Nan Knox Boys and Girls Club. He was a life member -of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., the NAACP, the Air Force Association, Retired Officers Association, the P-51 Mustang Pilots Assoc., the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). He was also a member of the Fort Lauderdale Power Squadron, the Civil Air Patrol and the Quiet Birdmen. Additionally, he enjoyed working part time as a head usher at the Broward Center for Performing Arts for 20 years, retiring at age 90. In 2006, LTC Gray received the Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal presented by President George W. Bush, as well as an honorary Doctor of Public Service from Tuskegee University. Who's Who listed Gray in its 2008 book 100 Top Industry Experts. The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International named him a Paul Harris Fellow. The Broward County Commission declared February 14, 2012 LT. Col. Leo R. Gray Appreciation Day. Numerous other cities, universities and civic groups also bestowed honors upon him.
Predeceased by son Willard Stewart, Leo is survived by his wife Dianne, children Lynette Gray, Roger Gray (Octavia), Kathy Bryant (Carl), Bruce Stewart (Barbara), Selene Stewart, Amber Loewy (Johnny), Aunt Phyllis Knight, 10 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great grandchildren as well as many cousins and many, many dear friends.
The Lonely Eagles now have a full compliment of combat leaders and the Tuskegee Airmen legacy lives on.
WHO ARE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN?
"Tuskegee Airmen" refers to the men and women, African-Americans and Caucasians, who were involved in the so-called "Tuskegee Experience", the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
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