In Remembrance: David Sperry Gray ’51E, ’54BD, ’56STM Died on June 4 2015

David Sperry Gray passed away on June 4, 2015. He was an Episcopal Minister and also, with his wife, operated The Bolton Institute for a Sustainable Future and Roundtable Press, which published one of his books.

The Boston Globe ran a story on July 8, 2015.

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    David Sperry Gray

    David was born on January 2, 1930, in Providence, Rhode Island to Clarence Sperry and Marion Fearney Gray. He grew up in Cranston near Providence with his parents and younger brother David. His father worked as an industrial engineer with Rath & Strong Engineering.

    Following in his father’s footsteps, David graduated Yale University in 1951 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering . He also was inducted into Yale's chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society.

    An active Episcopalian, David decided to study religion at Yale Divinity School, and there met the love of his life, Elizabeth Emma Dodson, a Smith College graduate. Together they graduated in 1954 with B.D./M.Div. Degrees--, and David continued his YDS studies, earning the S.T.M. in 1956.

    Although David planned upon graduation to teach in a college religion department, his bishop prevailed on him to serve as a parish priest. “In those days," David reflected, "people obeyed their bishop. So I went. I wasn't called to it, I was pushed in. Many Christians have experiences like this. Things we don't initially welcome turn out to be great opportunities." Ordained in 1957, for sixteen years David pastored parishes in Providence, Rhode Island, St. Louis, Missouri, and Westboro, Massachusetts. Though Elizabeth was not ordained, the pair worked as colleagues, wrote sermons together, and taught adult education side by side.

    In 1972 the Dodson Grays pried their way out of the pulpit and took a quantum leap from serving local parishioners to educating about world survival issues. In explaining their new vocation they said, “We are ministering to a whole culture that needs to change.”
    Corporate social responsibility was the first concern that grabbed the two in their new issue-centered ministry. Picketing Harvard students were demanding that Harvard sell its substantial investments in Gulf Oil to protest what students charged were Gulf’s unfair employment practices operations in Portuguese Angola against black Angolans. (Angola won its independence in 1975.) This protest raised the larger issue of the moral responsibility of all USA-based corporations doing business in South Africa, with its apartheid policies. In Boston's financial district, they sponsored a series of lectures on ethical investments aimed at decision-makers for colleges, churches, and financial firms.

    From questioning what big business was doing to its employees and other people, David and Liz moved on to question what an industrial society was doing to the planet. As early as 1972, a year before the Arab oil embargo, the Grays heard that Carroll Wilson, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was doing research in this field. Wilson had done the early computer modeling that provided grist for the Club of Rome’s landmark study, The Limits to Growth--the1972 book that created a stir, because it said that growth is limited by a finite planet, by pollution, by energy. At MIT Wilson organized workshops, conferences, and seminars to explore the issues raised in this controversial work. David, who had been studying finance at the Harvard Business School, joined his seminar on “Critical Choices for the Future.” Four weeks into the course David wrote a paper on “How would a sustainable social and economic system work when my grandchild is as old as I am now.” His “grandchild paper” proposed a sustainable financial system forty years down the road. This was at a time, David said, when “long-range” planning in the financial community meant looking eighteen months into the future. Wilson's lesson was that unless we have some concept of a truly good future, we are at risk of being overwhelmed by what are essentially transition problems. While “a grandchild paper” seemed like an almost bizarre exercise in the very early 1970s, Gray reflected, this is now a recognized technique in policy design, referred to as “normative scenario planning.”

    Working with Carroll Wilson was a life-shaping experience for the Dodson Grays. In 1973 they did staff work for ten days of congressional hearings in the Ninety-Third Congress, published as Growth and Its Implications for the Future. This 720 page report, prepared with MIT colleague William F. Martin, became the basis for the two ministers’ work. During the 1970s and 1980s they taught this subject at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and at both Williams College and Boston College. In the years that followed David and Liz lectured on campuses and to church and women’s groups all over the country. The theme of their ‘sermons’ was that we must change our values if we are going to have a sustainable society. In 2010 to honor their service to the Theological Opportunities Program, Elizabeth and David Dodson Gray were presented with the Donella Meadows Award by the U.S. affiliate of The Club of Rome.

    David and Liz also operated The Bolton Institute for a Sustainable Future and Roundtable Press, from their home in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and through it published four of Liz’s books and one of David’s. As their children wrote in David’s obituary, “It was a true spiritual and professional partnership that few are lucky enough to experience at all--much less for 58 years!”

    In retirement the Grays moved to Utah to live near their son Jonathan and family. David Sperry Gray passed away in his sleep on June 4, 2015 in Ogden, Utah, at the age of 85. Friends and family members celebrated David’s life on July 11 at The First Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts. He was survived by his wife of 58 years, Elizabeth, their two children, Lisa Fearney Gray and Jonathan Hunter Gray, and four grandchildren: Tricia Gray, Jon-Hunter Gray, Jake Jackson and Sam Jackson.

    Obituary at
    United States Federal Census 1940
    Emilie Tavel Livezey, “Bolton Institute: where less is more,” The Christian Science Monitor, August 21, 1980, at
    Gray, Elizabeth Dodson, David Dodson Gray, and William Flynn Martin. 1975. Growth and its implications for the future. Branford, Conn: Dinosaur Press. This also is available free and online from sources listed at
    Elizabeth Dodson Gray, “Walking My Yellow Brick Road – A Memoir” [website] at
    “Activist on the World Stage: Carroll Wilson Remembered,” The MIT Tech Review, February/March 1984. Accessed at

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