A pro in radio broadcasting and on the DJ circuit, Leon Gray – a special assistant to Shelby County’s Juvenile Court judge – flowed positive vibes, which is why so many have been mourning his death.
Gray, 62, died Friday (June 11). According to a source close to the family, he had a heart attack on Monday (June 7) and never recovered.
A member of New Sardis Baptist Church, Gray – a Sunday School teacher – had deep Mid-South roots.
“We both have roots that spring out of Jago, (Jay-go) Mississippi,” said the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., New Sardis’ pastor emeritus and a member of Gray’s family. “That (Jago) is now Southaven, Mississippi.
“Leon and I are sons of fathers who were cousins. They were cousins, but they were raised like brothers. Our fathers, Leon and Leo Gray, ran a taxi service together between Jago and Memphis. I came here, and when Leon moved here, we fell into the same kind of relationship. We hooked up like brothers.”
Not only will Gray be missed in the family, he will be missed in the New Sardis Church family, Dr. Gray said.
“The congregation will not only miss the service he rendered, but the spirit in which he rendered it.”
Gray’s broadcast career spanned over a quarter century. It was accented by him having been:
- A radio personality with the Clear Channel (now iHeart) Radio Group in Memphis;
- A media figure in Houston, Texas;
- A TV news reporter and anchor with ABC-24 News and UPN-30 News;
- News director with Memphis Radio Group, and
- A radio announcer and talk show host with several local stations, including WDIA, WREC, WLOK and 103.5 WRBO.
A 1977 graduate of Manassas High School, Gray once posted on Facebook that “one of my favorite teachers” was Noble H. Owens Jr., who taught English and owned Owens Funeral Home. “(H)e was always there for students in good and bad times.”
Owens daughter, Dena Owens, first became friends with Gray during her college days. Gray studied journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and completed his Mass Communication certification at Tennessee State University.
“My dad, who also had a DJ gig at WDIA, encouraged Leon, who became a pro in radio broadcasting and DJ services,” Owens said.
“When Club Infinity was hot in Whitehaven, I wanted to dance with my friends some weekends. My protective dad didn’t like the idea, but I told him Leon Gray was the DJ. He had Leon to keep an on me whenever I visited the club to make sure I stayed out of trouble.
“That,” said Owens, “started a lifelong friendship of support, talks about politics and mutual respect for each other.”
Gray’s career in public service includes serving as director of Community Outreach in the Shelby County Mayor’s Office and eight years as senior legislative specialist for the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.
In a released statement, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said Shelby County had lost “…a powerful voice – in fact, one of the most memorable and powerful voices. …”
At Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, Gray applied himself to a variety of administrative tasks involving community outreach, volunteer services, auxiliary probation, court information and media relations. He began working as special assistant to Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael in 2016.
“Leon, as many of us knew, was a man of faith and dedicated his life as a champion for many causes,” Michael posted on social media.
“The Court has indeed lost a hero.”
A member of The New Tri-State Defender’s 2012 Men of Excellence class, Gray included in his self-reflection that he believed the key to living a good life was to find and follow God’s plan for you and always remember the Scripture from John 8:32:
“And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Gray leaves four sons: Leon III, Bryan David, Joshua and Jordan.
Visitation: Thursday, June 17, 3 p.m.-7 p.m., Serenity Funeral Home, 1638 Sycamore View; Friday, June 18, 11 a.m.-noon, New Sardis Baptist Church, 7739 E. Holmes Rd. Funeral service, noon at New Sardis.
(This story reflects reports by Dr. Sybil M. Mitchell and TSD Associate Publisher/Executive Editor Karanja A. Ajanaku.)