Walter E. Gray

Page 465-466-467 - Walter E. Gray takes definite satisfaction in being associated with one of the substantial and well directed business enterprises lending to the commercial prestige of his native city of Grand Rapids, where he is secretary and manager of the Gray-Beach Cigar Company, which conducts a large and prosperous wholesale cigar business, with headquarters at 109 Michigan avenue, northwest, and with a trade extending through the territory normally tributary to Grand Rapids as a distributing center. Mr. Gray was born in this city September 8, 1880, and is a son of Freeland H. and Eva A. (Billings) Gray, representatives of honored and influential pioneer families of Allegan county, Michigan, where the original members of the Gray family settled in 1856, upon coming from Orleans county, New York, and where the Billings family was founded in the early pioneer period of Michigan history. Mrs. Eva A. (Billings) Gray was a daughter of Walter Billings, who was one of the venerable pioneer citizens of Allegan county, at the time of his death, in 1903, when seventy-nine years of age. He and two of his brothers were gallant soldiers of the Union in the Civil war, and the Billings family has been one of prominence in Allegan county since the early pioneer era. Through intermarriages it became closely allied with the Barrager and Clark families, likewise of pioneer prestige in that county, and the annual family reunions held now call together four or five hundred of the kinfolk. The original representatives of the Billings family in America came from Scotland and settled in Pennsylvania, in 1762, and four brothers of the name, including the father of the late Walter Billings of Allegan county, were patriot soldiers in the war of the Revolution. Freeland H. Gray and two of his brothers served with Michigan troops during the entire period of the Civil war, in which he was a member of the Thirteenth Michigan Volunteer Infantry. Freeland H. Gray continued his residence in Allegan county until 1868, when he established his residence in Grand Rapids, he having here passed the remainder of his life and having been about sixty-three years of age at the time of his death. He was long associated with business affairs in this city, was a Republican in politics and was affiliated with the Grand Army of the Republic. His wife, whose death occurred September 8, 1910, served as state president of the Michigan Woman’s Relief Corps and as a member of the national board of the Daughters of Veterans, the Eva Gray Tent of the Woman’s Relief Corps in Grand Rapids having been named in her honor. Of the six children one, Gailie, is deceased, and the other five reside in Grand Rapids, the subject of this sketch being the one surviving son and his sisters being Mrs. A. B. Cooper, Mrs. Helen Vogelsang, Mrs. Fred English, and Mrs. George Erwood. After completing his studies in the Central high school of Grand Rapids, Walter E. Gray here took a course in the McLachlan Business College. He had the distinction of being the youngest man from Grand Rapids to serve as a soldier in the Spanish-American war, in which he was a member of the Sons of Veteran Company of the Thirty-third Michigan Volunteer Infantry. He accompanied his command to the stage of conflict and in his service well upheld the military honors of the family name. July 4, 1898, he personally witnessed the sinking of the Spanish fleet in Cuban waters, and this he gained from an excellent vantage point on the shore, only a short distance away. He is actively affiliated with the Spanish-American War Veterans and also with the Sons of Veterans, besides being eligible for membership in the society of the Sons of the American Revolution. As a commercial salesman Mr. Gray has traveled extensively through the western states, besides having visited Alaska, and since 1901 he has been closely associated with the cigar business in Grand Rapids. In 1924 he here became one of the principals in the organizing of the Gray-Beach Cigar Company, of which he is the secretary and general manager, Gerrit J. Johnson being president and Walter D. Beach treasurer of the company. This is the only Grand Rapids concern engaged exclusively in the wholesale cigar business, and throughout a trade territory in Michigan and neighboring states they have developed a large business in which connection it is to be noted that this city stands second only to Detroit in the volume of cigars manufactured in Michigan. Mr. Gray has been long engaged in the cigar business and is well known throughout the trade territory in which his company operates. He is an active member of the local Association of Commerce, is affiliated with the Masonic fraternity, in which his basic membership is in Valley City Lodge No. 86, A. F. & A. M., and besides being a noble of Saladin Temple of the Mystic Shrine he is a popular member also of Grand Rapids lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. January 27, 1908, was the date of the marriage of Mr. Gray to Miss Margaret A. Plaat, who likewise was born and reared in Grand Rapids, where her father, Gerrit W. Plaat has been for many years associated with the Hazeltine & Perkins Drug Company. Mr. and Mrs. Gray, who are popular figures in the representative social activities of their native city, have two children, Gordon J. and Dorothy M.

Transcriber:  Nancy Myers
Created: 21 August  2003