Milestones, Obituaries


November 9, 1931 – December 31, 2020

GREENSBORO – Hazel Ward Burton Gray, the fifth of six children born to Ella Lindley Burton and Ward Cotton Burton (who arrived at his 1917 wedding by sailboat), grew up on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, Minn., in “Quarterdeck,” a stately Georgian house built of bricks her father had shipped from his native Boston.

 Her carefree childhood ended with the death, a day before her twelfth birthday, of her beloved older brother Gale at the age of twenty-five.

Hazel’s love for all creatures, dogs and horses in particular, led to her piano teacher’s ultimatum forcing her to choose between her horse and her piano lessons; Hazel consequently became an accomplished rider as a teenager.  She also became a passionate sailor, crewing for her father despite a battle of wills at one point when he refused to allow her on the boat unless she removed her lipstick. Neither party gave in that day, despite Ella’s claim, “Oh, Ward, all the girls do it,” and the boat sailed without Hazel.

Following her graduation from Northrop Collegiate School (since merged with the Blake School), she had her trunk shipped to Smith College, where it spent the fall in her dormitory basement as Hazel intermittently wondered what had become of it while struggling to survive German and regularly dropping in at the college chapel to pray she would pass her courses: a habit possibly contributing to her choice of Comparative Religion as a major.

Following graduation from Smith in 1953, Hazel set out for San Francisco with her good friend and classmate Polly Byrd, before marrying Philip Gray the next year in Minneapolis on September 1, 1954.  The young couple moved to New York for graduate work at Columbia University, where Hazel earned an MA in Elementary Education before Phil (having completed his MA in Political Science) joined the Army and was sent to Augusta, Ga., where daughter Margot was born. (Wives were not welcome near the Army barracks, but Hazel, never one to let rules stop her, followed Phil to Augusta with their cat and defiantly rented an apartment).

When Phil joined the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service as a diplomat, the young family – now including son Burr – set off for Beirut, Lebanon, where Ellen was born.  A second posting took the family to Baghdad, Iraq, where youngest child Bruce arrived during a revolution, requiring Hazel to obtain a special pass through both warring factions to reach the hospital.

The family’s final posting was to Amman, Jordan, before settling in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Hazel indefatigably room-mothered, car-pooled, chauffeured, and community-volunteered while raising children, horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, tropical fish, ducks, and raccoons. Upon the departure of her last child to college, she returned to her beloved “Quarterdeck” to care for her ageing mother and younger sister, Elinor – ultimately moving with Elinor, two dogs and two cats to a new home on a beautiful pasture north of Seattle, where she took in rescue horses and enjoyed travelling up and down the I-5 corridor for activities and celebrations with Ellen, Bruce and their families. 

Hazel was diagnosed with Inflammatory breast cancer in July of 2020. Her children and grandchildren were at her side during her final months.

Throughout her life, Hazel held unyielding principles, unhesitantly expressed: she was fiercely kind, generous, compassionate, loyal, loving, inclusive and triumphant in living long enough to vote Trump out.

A service will be held at the Greensboro United Church of Christ Friday August 6, at 4 p.m. All are welcome.

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