When Walter B. Gray '21 married Beatrice White in the summer of 1948, they moved into a small house at 34 Bancroft Road in Melrose, Mass. And there they stayed, living modestly for the next half a century. Other than buying a summer cottage and taking trips to Europe, the Grays offered no evidence that they were anything but an unpretentious couple of moderate means.
The couple met at New England Telephone and Telegraph Co., where he was a toll facilities layout supervisor and later a plant engineer and she was a secretary. He enjoyed making furniture; she volunteered with the Red Cross as a nurses' aide. They both served as president of their local chapters of the Eastern Star. Through the years, Walter regularly made contributions to his alma mater—but the amounts were not large. During the Depression, for example, they dropped from $3.50 per year to $2.
And so Diana Koski, vice president and director of planned giving with the UNH Foundation, was baffled one day when a lawyer called her about "the Gray estate." Walter and Beatrice, it turns out, were millionaires. And they left their millions to UNH.
"This is among the most generous scholarship endowments we've ever received," says Koski. "And it came as a total surprise."
Even their closest relatives (the Grays had no children) were surprised to learn of the small fortune the couple had accumulated. Jim Prime, a nephew who visited the Grays often during their final years, does recall, however, that both of them were extremely thrifty. "They kept track of every penny they spent. I think it was a game for them, a sort of challenge." He also remembers Walter as "an extremely intelligent man who never lost his curiosity or enthusiasm for life."
When Walter died in 1996, it was Prime who came across his uncle's will, scribbled on a yellow piece of paper and left in a desk drawer. On it Walter had indicated amounts to be left to his family—Prime and his brother and sister—and to his church. The rest, some $2.5 million, was designated for a UNH endowment for scholarships. Students from three towns—Beatrice's hometown of Saugus, Mass., his own hometown of Rochester, N.H., and Melrose, Mass., the town they lived in for so many years together—would be eligible to receive financial aid from the endowment's annual payout.
The fund has been established now, and Jim Prime, his sister and his brother will receive a yearly letter of thanks from UNH, listing the names of students who are the recipients of their family's generosity. Which seems a fitting tribute for such unassuming donors. It will come in the mail, without fanfare, but with clear proof of the lasting impact of the Grays' gift: an education for countless college students, for generations to come.Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents