Dr. John Gray, key doctor with Grenfell Mission in St. Anthony, dies at 94

·3 min read
Fiona and John Gray volunteered to come from England to Newfoundland to work on the Northern Peninsula. (Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation - image credit)
Fiona and John Gray volunteered to come from England to Newfoundland to work on the Northern Peninsula. (Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation - image credit)

Dr. John M. Gray, the last of a core team of physicians who helped to establish rural medicine in the province, died last week in Halifax at the age of 94.

Gray was a prominent physician in Newfoundland and Labrador, known for his work with the Grenfell Mission as one of the first groups to provide much needed medical services to northern areas of the province.

Former lieutenant-governor Edward Roberts, an MHA on the Northern Peninsula for The Straits-White Bay North, as the district was then known, said Gray's role in establishing the hospital in St. Anthony left a definite legacy in the region.

"They weren't the only doctors in Newfoundland and Labrador I came to respect, but they made a significant contribution," said Roberts.

Gray and his wife, Fiona, volunteered to come from England to Newfoundland to work on the Northern Peninsula. Roberts was an MHA in the region in the mid-'60s, and came to know Gray through his work in the hospital.

"The Grenfell mission had its headquarters at St. Anthony so I came to know John Gray — and we were soon on a first-names basis — very well, and came to admire him even more greatly."

He's a man to be remembered, and we should treasure his time among us. - Edward Roberts

Gray spent nearly 25 years working with the Grenfell Mission doing internal medicine, and was part of what Roberts called the region's core group of physicians.

"John was one of the key group of four, and they ran hospitals," said Roberts. "The main base was in St. Anthony. A new hospital was built there in 1968, the [Charles S.] Curtis hospital, and John worked on medicine."

Gray worked alongside other notable physicians like Gordon Thomas, Jim Williams and John Cronhelm, who provided an array of pioneering medical services for the region.

According to Roberts, the services they provided to Labrador and northern Newfoundland were likely the best in the province.

"They were doing advanced work at St. Anthony, comparable to that of anywhere in the province, and in fact, anywhere in Eastern Canada at that time."

Remembered for his quiet, strong demeanour

In their day-to-day lives, Roberts said, the Grays were committed Christians who took part in the community and never acted above the locals they were serving.

"He didn't live up on the hill and stay apart from everybody," Roberts said.

Given the communal nature of the hospital, everyone in the community came to know Gray sooner or later, and that endeared him to the community even further, Roberts said.

"There were no private medical doctors, so the hospital was a centre, and John was part of community activities."

The John M. Gray Centre is a long-term and continuing-care facility in St. Anthony, named for the late doctor.
The John M. Gray Centre is a long-term and continuing-care facility in St. Anthony, named for the late doctor.

When Gray and his wife finally left St. Anthony so he could take up a teaching position at Dalhousie University in Halifax, they were in the midst of organizing a residential project for seniors in the community.

"John and a group in St. Anthony were talking about the need for accommodation for senior citizens," Roberts said.

The institution, the St. Anthony Interfaith home, opened in 1981. It was replaced in 1998 by a long-term care centre named after Gray.

Roberts says he remembers Gray as a quiet, strong-minded individual.

"But he wasn't overwhelming, and he didn't impose his views on others; he listened," said Roberts, adding it was "pleasant to have a meal with him, or have a cup of coffee."

The services that Gray and the other physicians provided their chosen community came at a time when rural medicine in the province was in its infancy, Roberts said.

"I came to respect those men immensely," said Roberts. "He's a man to be remembered, and we should treasure his time among us."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador