Floral 29
Official Obituary of

Lora Marie Whitford Gray

January 21, 1929 ~ April 1, 2024 (age 95) 95 Years Old

Lora Marie Whitford Gray Obituary

Lora Marie Whitford Gray passed into the Glorious Presence of God on April 1, 2024, after a short decline following what was thought to be a minor fall.  

She was born on January 21, 1929, to Ira Edgar Whitford, and Mary Susan Wetherington Whitford at home in the Caton Community north of New Bern, NC.  She entered this world at the end of the Roaring Twenties; however, the Great Depression loomed close.  Her childhood was poor, but blessed by the love of her family who were farmers.  She and her siblings were never hungry. 

Known as “Lora Marie” to childhood family and friends; she was “Aunt Peggy” to her Whitford nieces and nephews.  When she entered East Carolina Teacher’s College in 1948 she simply went by “Marie,” her chosen name for the rest of her life.

On her second day at ECTC, she met a handsome redhead, Robert Alton Gray, a graduate student. They married two years later on September 1, 1950. Over the next decade, Robert and Diane made their family complete.

Between 1951 and 1963, the family lived in five different North Carolina communities as he advanced his career in education.  During this time, she enjoyed being a typical 1950s homemaker, nurturing precocious and adventuresome Robert while supporting Alton’s career. Later in life, she talked often of cherished friends and memories of Magnolia, Faison, and Mingo during the early years of their marriage. Their summers were spent living with her parents while she completed her BS in  Elementary Education.  A few years later, she earned her Master’s degree and later her Advanced Certificate in Educational Leadership and School Administration.  

Her teaching career started at Boone Trail School, a tight-knit, idyllic community where her husband was Principal. During that time her Christian faith flourished at Mt. Pisgah Presbyterian Church.

In 1963, the Gray family made their final move 10 miles away to Lillington.  Shortly thereafter, Alton and Marie reached their professional goals where he became superintendent of Harnett County Schools, and she ultimately became a professor in the Department of Education at Campbell College. She was not only a leader in the field of education, she was also a role model for her students professionally and personally,  She was their friend and cared about their lives and families.  She became a lifelong mentor to many. They thanked her for her friendship that continued throughout their lives.  These long-term friendships brought her much joy beyond her fulfilling 40-year career.

In 1987, Marie suddenly and unexpectedly became a widow.  During the years that followed, she filled her time, outside of teaching and supporting student teachers, with her grandsons Benjamin and Kevin.  Several times each month, she took one or both of them on weekend adventures.  Through the hundreds of days they were with her, the boys were introduced to world travel and many special experiences.  Each had a special relationship with their Mema, they each have always included her in their adult lives.  She has had the privilege of spending time and getting close to her five great-grandchildren.

Following her retirement in 1995, Marie became more involved with activities at Lillington Presbyterian Church which her family had attended since 1963.  She developed hobbies that included making her home and yard more beautiful.  During this time, she developed many deep friendships, and was a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society for “Key Women Educators,” the Lillington  Garden Club, Friends of the Library, and Prime Time Senior Citizens Club.  

With her sister-in-law, Carrie, her children, grandchildren, and friends, she traveled extensively including every state in the U.S. and every continent except Antarctica. As recently as this past November, she traveled by car across the United States with her daughter.  They spent 16 days exploring nine states and ultimately arriving at Grandson Ben’s house in San Francisco to spend Thanksgiving week with his family. She and Diane both agreed that the hardest day of the trip was flying home.  

She spent the final 2 years of her life living with Diane and her husband, Ed, who supported his mother-in-law with love, and never with a negative word.  He said many times, “I was fortunate to be married for 42 years and never had a cross word with my mother-in-law.  She was one in a million.”   Several weekends throughout each year she enjoyed time at her home in Lillington with her son Robert, along with friends and caregivers Barbara Siler and Judy Hardway.

Only 12 weeks ago,  her family, 125+ friends, and former students celebrated her 95th birthday.  The family is thankful that she was healthy then and able to visit with so many friends, neighbors, and students from her days teaching 6th and 7th grades and also at Campbell.  She was able to hear in life how she positively impacted so many lives; not just theirs, but also as her teaching style trickled down to hundreds of their students.

Marie was preceded in death by her husband, Robert Alton Gray, her parents, Ira and Susie Whitford, and all of her siblings:  Edgar, LaTrille, Beatrice, Garland, Milton, and McRay.

Surviving are son Robert and his wife Debbie of Raleigh; daughter Diane and her husband Ed Walters of Raleigh;  Diane’s sons Benjamin Walters and wife Lindsey of San Francisco, and Kevin Walters and wife Danielle of Raleigh; Great-grandchildren are Madeleine, Thomas, James Walters, along with one expected in September of San Francisco; as well as Savannah and Jackson Walters of Raleigh. Beloved sisters-in-law Charlotte Whitford (McRay) of the Caton Community, and Sylvia Whitford (Milton) of New Bern, along with many treasured nieces and nephews.

Though her remaining loved ones will miss her tremendously, they rejoice that she is in heaven and no longer encumbered by her fragile 95-year-old body. 

The family will receive guests at Daughter Diane’s home in Raleigh on Friday evening, April 5th from 7-9.

Her Celebration of Life will be held at Lillington Presbyterian Church,  at 11 am on Saturday, April 6. Visitation will be at 10. a.m., before the service at the church. 1101 South 8th Street, Lillington, NC.

She will be buried beside her beloved husband on Monday, April 8 at 2 p.m., at  Greenleaf Memorial Park, 900 River Road, New Bern NC.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God  2 CORINTHIANS 5:17-21 


Instead of Flowers, please consider

Delta Kappa Gamma, Phi Chapter Scholarship Fund, Attention Jennifer Lampley, Treasurer, 501 South 11th Street, Erwin, NC 28339

Boys and Girls Home of NC, PO Box 127, Lake Waccamaw, NC  28450.  Online at boysandgirlshomes.org

SAFE of Harnett County, 1210 South Main Street, Lillington,  NC  27546

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April 6, 2024

10:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Lillington Presbyterian Church
1101 S 8th St
Lillington, NC 2756

Celebration of Life
April 6, 2024

11:00 AM
Lillington Presbyterian Church
1101 S 8th St
Lillington, NC 2756

April 8, 2024

2:00 PM
Greenleaf Memorial Park
900 River Rd
New Bern, NC 28562


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