Whether you were a student, a fellow teacher or a stranger, if you were fortunate to encounter Gordon Grey, you walked away smiling and feeling better about life.
In his 37-year teaching career, 32 of those teaching business at Crystal River Middle School, Gordon Grey touched thousands of lives with his enthusiasm and upbeat outlook.
“He was part of the institution of Crystal River Middle School, and in this era of education, it’s rare to have teachers who invest in one school the way he did,” said Inge Frederick, CRMS principal. “Even after he retired, he came back to see us, and it was always good to see him.”
Gordon “Gordy” Grey died April 18. He was 68.
As a teacher, beginning the first day of school he would start the countdown, telling fellow teachers exactly how many days and hours and minutes until summer vacation started.
However, he did it not because he thought teaching was a drudgery, said Tina Wiesen, but as a way to “let us know that this is how much time we have to touch lives and make an impact.”
Wiesen said when she first came to the school she was new to the community as well and didn’t know anyone.
“To Gordon, we were all family, and so he took me by the hand and said I had to go to the staff luncheons because I was now part of the family, too,” she said. “I will always remember on half-days when he and Bruce (Stull) would be sweaty messes standing over the grill and smokers, grilling, and how he used to bring in food he cooked from home to share with all of us.”
Tammy Rall remembered a bust of a Roman god that Gordon had in his classroom.
“It was creepy looking to begin with and he used to change it all the time, the color of one eye or he’d do something to the ear, and the kids would come in to see what was different,” Rall said. “His point was to teach the power of observation.”
One thing all the students tried to observe was whether or not Mr. Grey had a wooden leg, a rumor Gordon neither acknowledged nor denied, although he had fun encouraging it.
“The kids all believed it,” Rall said.
To this day, only a few people know the truth.
Many people called Gordon their best friend, and three in particular: Bob Mann, Bruce Stull and Ron Worthington.
They went boating and fishing together, traveling all over the continent, to Canada and Mexico. They golfed together, he and Mann served in the National Guard together.
“We used to call it ‘F Troop,’” Mann said.
“He was an uncle to my three girls; he taught my sons and my grandson,” he said. “We had him to our house for holidays.”
Gordon, one of four brothers and a sister, grew up in Illinois as a fun-loving, mischievous boy, said his brother Gary at Gordon’s memorial service Saturday.
“The classic Gordy story — we lived a block from the elementary school and Gordy and our younger brother, Jim, who died years ago, decided to play hooky and play on the hill by our house — and they did this three days in a row.”
They went home for lunch, as they always did, and then went back to the hill to play — and they even went to school for recess. When they finally decided to go back to school, Gordon’s teacher gave him a note to give his mother.
“It was written in cursive, so Gordy knew he was getting in trouble,” Gary said.
Another time, when they were adults and Gordon had moved to Citrus County, their brother Scott had come for a visit.
“Scott hates snakes — and Gordy knew this,” Gary said. “Gordy used to hunt rogue alligators and he also worked for the county taking care of nuisance snakes — he had a freezer full of dead snakes, plus a stuffed rattlesnake.
“Scott was sleeping on the couch and Gordy put the rattler on the table next to Scott’s head — and when Scott saw it, we almost lost another brother,” he said. “Gordy had a well-defined sense of humor, but he was also the peacemaker of the family. He hated conflict and was a calming influence. He was the glue to our family, with a genuine heart of gold.”
School board member Ginger Bryant credits Gordon with encouraging her to run for office.
“I taught with him for many years,” she said, “and it was May 2000 while my husband and I were at Crackers, moaning and groaning about all the junk we had to put up with in the school system. Gordon...said to me, ‘You must run for school board,’ so I did, and I’m still there. Gordon really impacted my life.”
He also impacted another teacher, Janie Hulbert.
They met when they were both first new to Crystal River Middle School in 1979, he the business teacher and she teaching small engine repair in a nearby classroom.
“I thought he was so cute, as did many,” Hulbert said.
He referred to her as the “nuclear physics” teacher and as “Professor Hulbert.”
Hulbert left the school after a while, but would occasionally bump into Gordon around town.
In 2008, they were both invited to a dinner at a mutual friend’s house and their relationship blossomed from there.
“We enjoyed many trips together over the years, to the beaches of Florida and a couple of cruises,” she said. “He called me his ‘S.O.’ — Significant Other — and I dearly loved him and will always love him. He was a wonderful, thoughtful man.”
Gordon Grey served in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. He loved fishing, scalloping, and trapping lobsters. He loved baseball, golf and scuba diving.
He owned several businesses, including part ownership in The Rock House Pub.
He adored his cats, O.J. and Hoot. He loved Christmas Eve, hated the month of January.
Whenever he and his pals barbecued, he gave the prayer before eating: “Father, Son and Holy Ghost, whoever grabs the fastest gets the most.”
He was private and didn’t talk about his feelings, but he showed them through his actions. He always had an encouraging word, a practical joke, a piece of candy or a crock pot full of something delicious, just to make you smile.
“I worked with Gordon for 30 years at Crystal River Middle School,” said former guidance counselor Becky Worthington. “He made my life and my job easier. He was a talented, caring and dedicated teacher, and the kids all loved him. But even more than that, he was one of my husband’s closest friends...and during the last few years, now that my husband has dementia, he and Bob (Mann) made a habit of bringing over a pizza to visit Ron, which meant so much. I will never forget Gordon’s kindness and his friendship.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or email@example.com.