Obituary: Sir Anthony Gray

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The Independent Online
Francis Anthony Gray, administrator, born 3 August 1917, Treasurer Christ Church Oxford 1952-72 (Emeritus Student 1972), Secretary and Keeper of the Records of the Duchy of Cornwall 1972-81, KCVO 1981, married 1947 Marcia Wyld (one son, two daughters), died 2 August 1992.

TO REMEMBER Anthony Gray is to be warmed again by a sun of kindness and good humour, of a geniality strong enough to turn all but the sourest sweet.

Tony Gray was a tall man and this characteristic, which lent him presence, was also the cause of much physical disability in his life. As a boy he grew to over six feet before reaching adolescence and a consequent weakening of his spine meant a great deal of trouble with his back in later years. Since he was taller than most people, most people will remember him bending, with concentrated attention, to hear or to recount something amusing; for he loved to laugh. It could also be said that he loved people, in all their peculiarities, unpatronisingly, unsentimentally but with compassion, and with an abiding delight in the oddities of human conduct.

Tony was an only child. His earliest years were spent in Suffolk, where he may have acquired the love of country things, the feeling for land, which were later to be of such importance. After attending Marlborough and Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1936 he joined the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. In doing this he displayed an interest, perhaps innate, in the ways by which people might be persuaded to achieve coexistence by other means than war. That interest would be exemplified in a lifetime devoted to wise administration and the arts of conciliation. In 1939, when Gray was 22, war engulfed the world. His long-standing back trouble precluded ordinary military service. He became engaged in war work, often of a secret nature, about which, afterwards, he would never speak.

It was at the end of the war that I came to know Tony Gray, not long before his engagement to Mish Wyld, whom he married in 1947. His friends observed with pleasure the delight he felt at being welcomed into a large, lively, intelligent family which offered him much that his rather lonely childhood had lacked. That marriage would last for 45 years and provide him with three children of whom he was intensely proud.

For a while after the war Gray worked for the British Council, and then left to join the Hulton Press, publishers of Picture Post, The Farmers' Weekly and other magazines. He immersed himself in matters of production and circulation, and took pleasure in observing the somewhat byzantine politics of the publishing world.

In 1952 Gray was appointed Treasurer of Christ Church, Oxford. There can have been few appointments more perfectly suited to him. The college is a large landowner with properties all over the kingdom. Gray had some of his happiest times visiting land-holdings in many counties; at the same time he took the college's financial business into new fields of investment both at home and overseas. His family were settled not far from Oxford, at Ramsden on the edge of Wychwood Forest, and there and in his handsome rooms at Christ Church he and Marcia entertained what had come to seem an almost uncountable number of friends.

Gray did many other things for Christ Church besides managing and enhancing its patrimony. It was he who put in hand the repair and redecoration of its magnificent library and the building of the new art gallery. When, after 20 years, he retired from the treasurership the college, whose fellows are known as 'students', made him Student Emeritus.

Then, in 1972, began the last stage of Gray's public career. He was appointed Secretary and Keeper of the Records to the Duchy of Cornwall, property since the 14th century of the heir to the throne. There, once again, his knowledge of farming, of building and finance was fully engaged, as were his easy friendliness and diplomatic skill. On his retirement his family moved to a new home at Upton Scudamore in Wiltshire.

Tony Gray's qualities as an administrator led him, at various times, to membership of the Agricultural Advisory Council, the Ditchley Foundation, the Council of the Royal College of Art, and to the Chairmanship of the Travellers' Club. He travelled widely, and was at the disposal of any who came to seek his advice. Many who found themselves at some crossroads in life were helped forward by his wisdom, his imaginative sympathy and his always practical assistance. For the love that he gave to others much was returned to him. Severe illness, at the end, meant retirement from the world of his friends, but he was never forgotten. Few men can have left so good a report.

(Photograph omitted)