Success in life is determined by many things – but to former College of Public Health and Human Sciences Associate Dean Liz Gray, success was never measured in terms of things: possessions, titles or degrees. It was people and her relationships with them that created meaning not only for her but most importantly those close to her heart.
Many people found themselves lucky enough to fall into that category. At home, she was devoted to her husband, Don. On campus, Liz was student focused at her core.
On Sept. 6, 2013, Oregon State students lost a tireless advocate when Liz lost her battle with cancer at age 62. And her colleagues lost a valued mentor and friend.
“From Liz I learned how to be an effective teacher and how to ‘make it real’ for students,” says Associate Professor Megan McClelland. “No one could connect better with students! She was an expert at responding to students in a way that was warm and empathetic but also firm and fair. She was a dear friend and colleague, who knew how to laugh and have fun! I miss her dearly.”
“Liz wanted the college to have the very best of student services,” says former Associate Dean Jeff McCubbin. “She would not gently tolerate any responses such as, ‘It would be nice if we could afford it,’ or ‘It’s a nice idea, but ….’ There were not ‘buts’ for Liz.”
“Liz truly was students’ tireless advocate, always bringing their concerns to the forefront during faculty meetings and later, when she was associate dean, to administrative team meetings,” says Karen Hooker, co-director and endowed chair for the Center for Healthy Aging Research. “Liz cared for students in a way that helped them grow and become better people. She had very high standards and held people to them.”
To support students, Liz, as the college’s first associate dean for undergraduate affairs, was instrumental in developing LinC programs to boost the academic achievement of first-year students and also to involve them in the university’s Extension programs.
“Serving as associate dean was a perfect place for her in that stage of her career,” says Professor and Extension Specialist Marc Braverman. “It allowed her to exercise her leadership and creativity on a broad scale in working tirelessly for educational quality in all of the college’s activities. As the first person to hold that college administrative post, she set a formidable path to follow.”
“Liz truly set the bar high when it came to helping our students succeed,” says PHHS Dean Tammy Bray. “She wanted to provide opportunities to our students to be engaged in every part of their college life. Thanks to Liz, our college today is the destination of more than 3,000 students, and the second most desired college for high achieving students. That’s in no small part because she helped us to create a welcoming college. As much as I feel my heart is aching, I also feel we should celebrate her life – her dedication, her commitment and her no-nonsense attitude. She was a treasure, and she made OSU, this college and everyone she knew better.”
“Liz was interested in absolutely everybody,” Marc says. “She wanted to know what made people tick, their personal histories and values. She had a great generosity of spirit and was always ready to meet new people. Her openness and her welcoming nature embodied the adage that a stranger is just a friend whom you haven’t met yet.”
To her many colleagues, Liz was an inspiring and passionate friend they not only laughed with but also learned from. One of the founders of the OSU Women’s Center, she cared deeply about social justice and doggedly persisted in getting policies and procedures in place at OSU that would elevate the status of women in terms of professional positions and equitable salaries.
She also was open to learning and adventure and spent significant time living and working in other countries – notably Turkey and Taiwan – fostering cultural exchanges along with sharing her research and teaching. “These types of experiences that she made possible for OSU students truly shaped and changed lives,” Karen says.
She continued to change lives and teach others with the courage and grace she modeled after receiving a cancer diagnosis in 2009.
“She reset her priorities and was determined and forceful in following them through,” Marc says. “She loved OSU dearly, but when she realized that her time was limited she retired, closed the book on her highly accomplished career and turned her priorities to her family and friends. She and Don explored, traveled and did things that they had been putting off for years. She knew her own mind and her own values and followed them with verve and joy.”
“I have such respect for how she lived her life once she knew that the years she had left would likely be several, not dozens,” Karen says. “She lived those last years ‘full tilt’ – traveling to places she loved with the people she loved. Her fierce love for Don, David and other family members and close friends will endure.”
She is survived by her husband, Don; stepdaughter Melissa; son David; grandson Rhian; mother Adele; and sisters Jennifer Arbanas and Karen Jo Keefer.
In lieu of flowers, please contribute to the Lizbeth A. Gray OSU Scholarship Fund at any OSU Federal Credit Union branch. As she wanted, a celebration of life with music, food and fun is forthcoming. Time and place will be announced at a later date.