"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living"
Marcus Tullius Cicero


Rev. Joan H. Gray

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Rev. Joan H. Gray

Joan Gray was born on June 26, 1932 to Olive and Nelson Harris in Cape May, New Jersey.  Olive, Joan’s mother, died in childbirth.  Joan and her older brother Nelson Jr. were raised by her paternal Aunt, Lydia Norris, until her dad married  Anna Bythewood in December 1938.  Anna was a loving step mother whom they adored.


Joan attended the segregated West Cape May  Elementary (Grammar) School and the desegregated High School.  Joan was enrolled in the college preparation program where she excelled earning honor roll status from freshman year through graduation. She  skipped sixth grade and went directly into seventh grade thus entered high school one year ahead of her peers. She maintained honor roll status every year until she graduated in  1948.   In 1945,  she became the first black ever to make the  West Cape May High School cheerleader squad.  For this, she  endured harsh feedback and discrimination from the student body as well as the community.  Joan viewed these experiences as an important opportunity to pave the way for other  blacks to become cheerleaders or hold other positions within the school. 


After graduating high school, Joan was  accepted into the historically black Hampton Institute (Hampton University) where she majored in Physical Education.  While at Hampton, she was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority on April 5, 1952. She had many friends but it was  the friendship of Ruth Casey, Juliette Harris, Myrna  Harris, Jean Johnson, and  Margaret  Walker, otherwise known as the three J’s, two M’s, and one R that was the most important to her and these friendships lasted over the span of their lives. Joan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts  degree in 1952.


Joan moved to Edenton, North Carolina  where she taught Physical Education at Edenton High School for one year. It was in Edenton that she met and fell in love with George Thomas Gray who was the Social Studies teacher.  The two married in June of 1953 at Joan’s home in Cape May, New Jersey and they stayed married for 66 years.  They were blessed by God with two beautiful children, Gary Norris Gray who was born on December 19, 1953 and Deniece Elizabeth Gray who was born on  March 28, 1956.


Joan and George eventually settled in Burlington,  New Jersey where they embraced the community in addition to raising their family.  Joan went on to earn her MA degree in Special Education from The College of New Jersey on full academic scholarship.   Joan retired from the Burlington City Public School system with over 48  years of teaching, inspiring children, and just loving every minute of her time in the classroom. 


Joan has been a member of the A.M.E. Church since 1932.   She served in many positions with Allen,  Bethlehem, and Bensalem A.M.E. churches (to name a few) for decades.  It was no surprise when she began formal studies at Bell Grove Theological Seminary  to become a Pastor.  In 2000,  Joan became the Pastor at Bensalem A.M.E. Church and remained until 2007.  In addition to her pastor role, over her lifetime; she was the Superintendent of Sunday School Teachers, Minister of Music, Missionary Worker, Trustee, Director of Christian Education.  Her community outreach included Young Peoples Department Instructor, Single Parent Alliance, Turning Point, Bread of Life, Extended Hand Ministries, Food Pantry, Soup Kitchens, etc.  Joan received her Honorary Doctorate degree in Ministry in 1998. 


Joan leaves to mourn her son, Gary Norris Gray, Her Nieces, Ernestine Newkirk (Ben), Ellen Abdul-Rabb, Sandra Howard Simmons (Tyrone), Lillie Howard-Patterson (Gregory) her Nephews Columbus Howard (Gennifer), Clinton Howard, Grant Howard (Vivian), Carlton Howard, Sam Anderson (Corey), Special Sons are Eddy Hilliard Knox (Marilyn) and Neil Hutton ( Beverly)  

Rev. Joan H. Gray of Burlington, NJ transitioned from her labor here on earth to her heavenly home on Thursday, February 25, 2021. Celebration of her Life Service will be held 12 noon Friday, March 5, 2021 at the Bethlehem AME Church, 213 E Pearl Street, Burlington, NJ. Family and friends may view from 11am until time of service. Masks must be worn. Services provided by The TL Hutton Family & Friends Funeral Services, Burlington. Service will be available to view at 4pm on our Facebook page

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