Diana Gray's strength, optimism fortified her

NEIGHBORS

October 01, 1999|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THREE YEARS ago, before tragedy struck, Diana Gray was raising four children, leading Girl Scout Troop 637 and volunteering at Owen Brown Middle School.

Then, within four days of each other, her husband, Gregory, and daughter Sherry were involved in automobile accidents.

Gregory Lionel Gray died in an accident at U.S. 1 and Route 175. Sherry Gray, then 20, was injured in a three-car crash caused by a drunken driver on an exit ramp from Interstate 95 to Route 32. Both her legs were crushed.

At 47, Diana Gray was a widow with four children, one of them facing months or possibly years of rehabilitation.

Strength and an unflinching optimism carried her through.

On Wednesday, Gray's Guilford Square home was filled with young people -- friends of her son William, 18, who were visiting as he prepared to leave for college. He left yesterday to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.

Gray credits Faye Massie, Howard High School Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP) mentor, with keeping William focused on his future during a difficult time. Diana and William Gray refer to Massie as William's "second mom."

William leaves no doubt as to the person responsible for his success. "My mom's an amazing woman, very outgoing," he said. "She's the main reason I'm going to college. She let me chase my dreams. I'm definitely going to grasp it."

Son Gregory, now 19, is attending computer classes at Howard Community College.

Diana Gray is still leading Troop 637. The girls -- who were beginning grade school when she became their leader -- are in their first year of high school.

Gray's goal is for troop members to complete requirements for the Silver Award -- the highest a Cadet Girl Scout can attain. She is shepherding the troop -- her daughter Jennifer, 14, is a member -- through the process

To qualify for the award, Scouts must contribute more than 40 hours to a community service project.

Gray's charges are launching their projects.

Dara Foster, 14, a freshman at Long Reach High School, is collecting books for a school in Anne Arundel County. Atholton High School freshman Miranda Levine, 14, is planning a breakfast and reading program for children in a local shelter.

Jennifer Gray, a freshman at Hammond High School, is collecting materials for the Lucky Ones, a pet-rescue organization in Charlotte Hall, Md. Long Reach sophomore Desiree Truit, 14, is deciding on her project.

The projects are to be finished by December.

Sherry Gray is learning to walk again. She was released from the hospital just before her 21st birthday, her mother said, because she wanted to be at home on this important occasion.

"She's a wonderful person," Gray says. "She hasn't let this hold her back. We go bowling and fishing together."

A Police Explorer at Hammond High School, Sherry had hoped to become a police officer. After the accident, Gray said, Howard County police officers came to the trial of the motorist charged in the accident to offer support to the Grays, and later organized a fund-raiser to help pay for Sherry's prostheses. The driver was convicted and sentenced to one year in jail.

While in the hospital, Sherry starred in two videos to illustrate the consequences of drunken driving. One video is shown to drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated; the other is screened at area high schools during prom time.

Sherry, now 23, was married to Robert Drayton on July 11. She and Robert met in a drama class at Hammond and began dating when Sherry was a senior.

Robert, who was present when the accident happened, helped pull Sherry from under the vehicle that crushed her legs.

"I love her husband," said brother William. "I have an excellent respect for that guy. It was an excellent wedding."

One hundred fifty people attended the ceremony at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center.

The couple live in Glen Burnie. Robert works at Hubcap City, his family's business.

Diana Gray returned to work after her husband's death. She is academic transition assistant for the BSAP at Murray Hill Middle School and Atholton High School.

The program identifies at-risk students in eighth, ninth and 12th grades and offers support in the form of tutoring, a Saturday math class, college visits and other activities.

"I've been in PTA forever," Gray said about her qualifications for the job. "I've always worked with students, and I knew I could be effective."

In June, Gray received two associate arts degrees -- one in early childhood development and the other in secondary education -- from Howard Community College.

She made the dean's list each semester for two years, graduating Phi Betta Kappa. She plans to continue her education at Towson University or the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

A generous-spirited woman, Gray believes she could not have achieved so much without the support and encouragement of friends.

Mike Goins, then principal of Owen Brown Middle School, encouraged Gray to get a degree in education.

"I'd go to a class and help the teachers. He kept telling me to go to school," she said.

"I was a full-time student," Gray said, describing the last year, "and I worked two jobs. My school was very supportive. I have that going for me. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have done it.

"I always feel that God looks after us," she added. "I pray a lot and I thank him a lot."

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