Last week this site posted a list of many of the journalists who are no longer at the Kansas City Star after several rounds of layoffs over the years. Some were very familiar names while some were more behind-the-scenes contributors.
Now another prominent and respected name familiar to readers over the years will be leaving the McClatchy-owned paper after taking a voluntary retirement. Helen T. Gray will be leaving the paper after a 47-year career, 41 of them as the faith and religion editor.
“It’s time,” Gray told Bottom Line, saying she will not only retire from the paper, but also plans to relocate to New Jersey to attend to her 91-year-old mother.
“I need to do this,” she says.
Her last day will be Jan. 4. Editor Darryl Levings will assume her duties, and the paper will continue to have a Faith Section.
“Helen is the closest thing to a saint that any newsroom has ever had,” says former reporter/editor Jim Fitzpatrick who retired in 2006 after a 37-year career at the paper and currently operates the jimmycsays.com blog.
“In the midst of a gritty stew of anxiety, hand wringing, newsroom politics and back biting, Helen presented a picture of peace and goodwill when she would occasionally drift into the second-floor newsroom, from the arts and letters labyrinth on the third floor. Her departure will be a great loss to Kansas City. But, as usual, she’s going where she believes God wants her to be.”
While Gray will miss her co-workers, she feels strongly that she needs to spend time with her mother, noting, “I prayed on this decision.”
“I always said this was the best beat at the newspaper,” she added with a chuckle. “It’s the only beat where people were praying for me. That doesn’t happen on the political beat!”
Gray started out as a general assignment reporter at the Star and became the paper’s religion editor in 1971. During her carer she has covered faith communities, issues and trends and has been honored with numerous awards.
In 2008 she was presented with the “Christian Service Award by Richard Bott of the Bott Radio Network “For Faithful Life Long Service to Kansas City and all God’s Children.”
She was highlighted in a 2008 story by co-worker Robert Butler after it was revealed that she dated the late, great Syracuse football player Ernie Davis.
Her husband was the Reverend David L. Gray of Pleasant Green Baptist Church in KCK, who died several years ago while on the pulpit. In fact, the church’s address is: 340 David L. Gray Dr.