It was a sad day at the Kansas City Star as Helen T. Gray officially retired after 47 years at the McClatchy-0wned paper on Friday, 41 of them as the newspaper’s Faith & Religion Editor.
She had joined the paper in 1965 and became its religion editor in 1971. She plans to move to New Jersey to take care of her ailing 91-year-old mother.
“I have watched The Star go through so many changes,” the soft-spoken Gray noted in a Q & A article by Edward M. Eveld. “Things you might not think of. When I first got here everyone had a brass spittoon. I never used it, but I wish I had kept it as a souvenir. And so many technological changes.”
Gray, who was profiled by Bottom Line in December, told Eveld that when she joined the Star with her Master’s degree from Syracuse (where she once dated football legend Ernie Davis) many felt a newsroom was no place for a woman. As an African-American, she had two strikes against her.
“I needed to prove that I could do what other reporters could do,” she said. And she did, becoming one of the most beloved.
“Helen is the closest thing to a saint that any newsroom has ever had,” said former reporter/editor Jim Fitzpatrick, who retired in 2006 after a 37-year career at the paper and currently operates the jimmycsays.com blog.
Gray said becoming the Star’s religion editor was more than just a job.
“A lot of people go through life looking for their mission, and I felt like when I became religion editor, that was part of my mission,” she concluded.