In October, I initiated writing about people with disabilities who have made a significant impact on society and the lives of others. My first subject was Laura Hershey, a civil rights activist, poet, and writer. Today, I am writing about David Gray, PhD, who I met when he joined the OT faculty at Washington University in 1995.
He joined the faculty as a full professor, and I was a lowly instructor. I recall David interacting with each of us as peers with no regard or concern for the usual academic hierarchy. In fact, I think he was especially warm toward the more junior faculty members and students, just because we had so little status.
I am inspired to write about David because his scholarship and mentorship have changed the lives of so many people with disabilities, OT students and colleagues. I am writing about him at this particular time because he recently died. I hate this. The world will definitely be a tamer, less interesting place for our loss. On the other hand, I am not sorry that I didn’t write this sooner because David probably would have laughed and seriously teased me about the very idea of writing homage to him. This is because David was the real deal, someone who did the work for its own sake and because he loved it and he knew that it was important.
David’s scholarship was always directed toward the study of the impacts of disability. He initially focused on the needs of people with developmental disabilities.
Then, in 1976 at 32 years of age and very soon after completing his PhD in psychology and genetics at he University of Minnesota, David suffered an accidental fall and subsequent spinal cord injury. While he continued to research and publish about issues related to developmental disability, David also began to study and advocate for the broader community of people with disabilities of all sorts. His expertise and big personality took him into lofty circles, and David was invited to serve in leadership roles at the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, numerous universities and national organizations promoting civil rights for people with disabilities. He was a favorite teacher and mentor for countless students and certainly for many colleagues, as well. David’s impressive curriculum vita can be viewed at www.ot.wustl.edu/mm/files/CVs%20Faculty%20Members/Gray.pdf.
What I love to remember best about David are his sharp wit and wonderful sense of humor. His stories about his adventures as a world traveler with a power chair were both instructive and hilarious. David is the only person I ever knew who had the chutzpah to openly sleep during long faculty events. He did not suffer fools and was quite blunt in expressing disagreement and challenging others’ assertions if he saw flaws in our arguments. On the other hand, he was so very generous with praise and support when these were warranted. He glowed as he spoke about his students’ accomplishments and was warmly supportive of colleagues’ career success.
I am lucky to have known Dr. David Gray, and I know that many, many others feel so as well. He will be long and greatly missed, but his work on behalf of the needs and rights of people with disabilities will be felt far beyond his lifetime. I invite others who want to share their appreciation of David’s influence in their lives to do so here.
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