Life member (1959), Special Award recipient (1959), AFLUA Hall of Fame member (2008)and affectionately known ‘JR’, Jack Gray passed away 23 July 2018. An active member of the association right until his death he attended the X-men luncheons at Mornington to keep in touch with all of his old umpiring mates.
John Robert Gray was born 19 February 1925 and grew up in Ascot Vale with his two brothers Len and Don. Len would also go on to be a VFLUA life member. He played football with Essendon Stars under 18s in the Melbourne Boys League. They were undefeated premiers in 1943 and the game was played as a curtain raiser to the VFL grand final at Princes Park. JR also played with Essendon reserves in the VFL and Essendon Districts Football Club.
He began umpiring in the VFL Second Eighteens in 1946, until his elevation to the VFL senior panel in 1949. In 17 years Jack umpired 18 second eighteen, 295 VCFL (including 18 grand finals), 2 metropolitan and 10 Tasmanian matches. By his own calculation he umpired in four states, travelled about 192,000 km and ran about 6,400 km.
In a ‘what might have been’ Second Eighteens match at Lake Oval. Jack was accidentally kicked in calf during the second quarter and hobbled through second half. Umpires’ Advisor, Harry Clayton, saw the second half. “He told me I was moving well and had a big chance for promotion”. I was out for 6 weeks with a torn calf muscle.
JR spent nine years on the VFLUA executive committee as an executive member, assistant secretary and secretary. “I only had one year away from the VFL between 1949 and 1977 and that was the year after I retired in 1965 before I went onto the country observers panel.”, he recalled in 2015.
As secretary Jack’s terms of office included the arrangements associated with the ANFC Centenary Carnival, participation in the Moomba parade and constant agitation of the VFL for them to contribute to the umpires provident fund. The friendships he made were still evident late in life. Bill Terrill (president 1959), Len Eddy (president 1962), Gordon Watt (social committee 1960-62) and their wives took him out to lunch for his 90th birthday, ”I think they want to get me drunk,” he quipped at the time.
Finishing his official duties as the chairman of the VFL appointment board after the drawn grand final in 1977 he remembered walking across the MCG after the draw heading to the umpires rooms. “We convened a meeting and by the time we walked into the rooms we had appointed the same umpires to the replay the next week. It saved us an extra night out.”
Jack Gray will remain one of our most loved and respected members for his charm, wit and contribution to umpiring and his umpires’ association.