Congratulations to Coconut Creek resident and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Leo R. Gray on his induction into the Dr. Nan S. Hutchinson Broward Senior Hall of Fame, which celebrates the exceptional volunteer services of Broward County residents over the age of 60. Gray joins other Coconut Creek honorees: former Mayor Sam Goldsmith, former Commissioner Abe Asofsky, Gertrude Weinberg, Paula Layne and myself. Since 1978, the Broward County Aging and Disability Resource Center has inducted 377 members.
Gray is one of the original members of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black pilots who flew combat missions in WWII. You may have seen the movie “Red Tails,” which dramatizes the true-life stories of African-American pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group. If not, I highly recommend it.
Gray has an impressive bio: He made significant contributions to the warfare of this country throughout his military and civilian careers. Soon after high school graduation, he joined the Army Air Corps, and in 1943, he began his aviation cadet training. A little more than a year later, he graduated from the Tuskegee Army Airfield as a second lieutenant, single-engine pilot. While stationed in Italy as a fighter pilot, Gray flew 15 combat missions in P-51s for a total of 750 hours flying time. He left active duty in 1946, but remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserve until 1984. During his 41 years of military service, Gray earned a coveted Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and a Presidential Unit Citation.
Gray earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1950, a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1952, and did post-graduate work at the University of Maryland from 1962 to 1964. He began his 30-year career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1953 as a technical assistant at the University of Massachusetts’ agricultural extension service.
Gray wore many hats during his USDA career. He served as an agricultural economist with the Economic Research Service, as an economist with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in California and as director of the program-planning office for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, to mention a few. He was also an economic consultant to the USDA in West Africa.
Gray’s professional and civic life reflects his deep commitments to the Tuskegee Airmen, agricultural economic research organizations and civil rights. He mentors minority youths for several organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County. His advice to seniors is: “Keep the faith, and keep your mind focused on what you want to do. Just because you are old, doesn’t mean you can’t play ball.”?
Lt. Col. Gray, thank you for your service!