Bowman Gray, Sr.

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Bowman Gray, Sr.

Birthdate: (61)
Birthplace: Winston-Salem, Forsyth, North Carolina, United States
Death: July 7, 1935 (61)
at sea off the coast of Norway (heart attack)
Immediate Family:

Son of James Alexander Gray and Aurelia Gray
Husband of Nathalie Fontaine Gray
Father of Bowman Gray, Jr. and Gordon Gray
Brother of James Alexander Gray, Jr.

Managed by: Kevin Lawrence Hanit
Last Updated:

About Bowman Gray, Sr.,_Sr.

Bowman Gray, Sr. (May 1, 1874 – July 7, 1935) was a former president and chairman of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and a major benefactor of Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Bowman Gray was born in what was then Winston, NC to Wachovia co-founder James Alexander Gray and the former Aurelia Bowman. After receiving his primary and secondary education in his hometown, Gray matriculated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the 1890-91 academic year. He left school the following year to become a clerk at Wachovia. In 1895, he began working at R. J. Reynolds as a salesman. His sales success propelled him into management after two years, at which point he moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he married the former Nathalie Fontaine Lyons on October 1, 1902. There she gave birth to their two sons, Bowman Gray, Jr. in 1907 and Gordon Gray in 1909.

In 1912, Gray moved his family to Winston to take up his new position of vice-president and director of R. J. Reynolds, hand-picked by Reynolds himself to head the company's finance division.[1] In 1924, he was promoted to president of the company to succeed William Neal Reynolds, and in 1932 he became the chairman of the board of directors. Gray's brother James Gray, Jr. would also become president of R.J. Reynolds.

Between 1927 and 1932, he and his wife oversaw the construction of Graylyn, their 87-acre (350,000 m2) estate in the countryside surrounding Winston, across from R.J. Reynolds' estate Reynolda House.[1] In 1932 when they moved into Graylyn, Gray and his wife donated their former house for use as a church.[1] Two years after moving to Graylyn, Gray died of a heart attack while vacationing with his family aboard a ship off the coast of Norway. He was buried at sea.

Construction was slowed by the Great Depression, and Graylyn was not fully complete until 1952.[1] Gray donated to philanthropic causes in the region, many times doing so quietly.[1] At the time of his death in 1935, he left $750,000 worth of stock in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to Wake Forest University for the establishment of a medical school.[1] The Bowman Gray School of Medicine opened in 1941. Graylyn was donated to the Bowman School of Medicine, where it served as an academic psychiatric hospital facility until 1959.

In the 1970s, parts of Graylyn were used as off-campus student housing. In 1979, the main house hosted the Wake Forest University "German House." There is an underground tunnel connecting the main house to the large guest house (the "French House"). It was not until 1980, after a fire burned the top floor of the estate, that the president of the university announced the property would be restored to its original condition and used as a conference center.

Gray left behind him a legacy of philanthropy. He donated the property on which the Centenary Methodist Church in Winston would be built and contributed to local hospitals and orphanages as well. He and his sons also contributed heavily to Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the time of his death, his holdings in R. J. Reynolds alone were valued at $12 million.

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Bowman Gray, Sr.'s Timeline

May 1, 1874
Winston-Salem, Forsyth, North Carolina, United States
January 15, 1907
Age 32
May 30, 1909
Age 35
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
July 7, 1935
Age 61
at sea off the coast of Norway