Vail Valley’s Harry Gray: ‘An amazing character’
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” When well-known Minturn businessman Harry Gray owned a coffee shop called Harry’s Bump and Grind, he brought food to an elderly neighbor every day.
“I still remember Harry helping people out very quietly,” said Cliff Thompson, a longtime friend. “There was an old lady that lived across the street from the Bump and Grind and every day he’d go over and give her a cup of soup or sandwich or something.
“He gave a lot, he was very generous and helpful.”
Gray, who lived in Edwards, died Tuesday of heart complications at the Medical Center of Aurora in Aurora. He was 52.
Rick Pylman, who was a town planner in Vail when he first met Gray, said he’ll never forget the day Gray was arrested, charged with Dumpster diving during the town’s community clean-up day about six years ago.
“He wasn’t very happy about it,” said Pylman. “I think he felt the at that moment the community was suffering some overpolicing. I’m not quite sure what he was doing there.”
Gray had lived in the Vail Valley since 1981, his family said. He graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., with a bachelor’s degree in English and history with a minor in classics.
While attending Bucknell, Gray was a heavyweight on the school’s wrestling team, said classmate and friend of more than 30 years Russell Thrasher.
“I remember the last match he was in,” said Thrasher. “He said ‘I don’t care if I win or lose this thing’ …… and sure enough Harry just wailed on him. I don’t know if he won or not, but I don’t think the guy ever wanted to wrestle him again.”
In the early 1980s, Thrasher said he rented a room for $300 from Gray in Red Cliff, and Gray provided his daily meals. Thrasher said Gray taught him how to hunt elk and brew beer, with a few complications along the way.
“Harry got into beer brewing and I can’t tell you how many kitchens we trashed,” said Thrasher. “His wife finally kicked him out of her kitchen, so he came to mine. It wasn’t enough to buy the kit, he was cooking grains and grinding grains. He went whole hog into that and at times had five or six kegs of beer going at once.”
Gray also was an avid gardener and junk collector, Thrasher said.
“He has garages all over the valley filled with junk,” Thrasher said with a laugh. “He was proud to be a junk man.”
Gray had been a contractor in the Vail Valley since the early 1980s, building custom homes for his company Greystone Construction. He owned Harry’s Bump and Grind coffee house in Minturn for three years.
His family said he thought he was great singer. He sang at Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Avon, Colo. for many years.
Gray was a devoted father, who was very involved in all his children’s sports and activities, his friends and family said.
Merv Lapin best knew Gray through a hockey program he directed for Eagle County at the Dobson Ice Arena in Vail.
Lapin said he got to know Gray during a national hockey trip to Eastern Europe in 2003.
Gray helped organize the event and chaperoned with his son Mitch in tow, said Lapin.
“He was taking care of his own kid and everyone else’s,” said Lapin. “He was very enthusiastic and always had a mischievous grin on. He was one of them ” he was the biggest kid.”
“I will remember him for his fabulous hospitality,” said longtime friend Katherine Schmidt. “His home was always open to all of his friends. He had a huge, fabulous sense of humor as big as his heart. He was a big hugger, he wrapped his arms around you.”
Gray served on the town council in Red Cliff in the early 1990s, where he displayed his unmistakable character, friends said.
“Harry had a really kind soul” said Randy Milhoan, longtime friend and Minturn gallery owner. “He was big and gruff and had that air about him. He was an amazing character. I’m not sure there will be another guy like Harry around. He’s going to missed and hard to replace.”
“We’re going to miss his stories,” added longtime friend Tom Higgins. “He was a huge man with a huge heart, who left a lot of best friends. He was a great storyteller.”
Kurt Segerburg, a longtime friend of Gray’s, said the man loved taking hunting trips for the times it afforded him time to bond with his buddies.
Segerburg fondly recalled one of his favorite trips with Gray, hunting doves in Cordoba, Argentina, several years ago.
“We went down there together and he just had a ball, sharing a lot of the humor he was known for … real salt of the earth humor,” said Segerburg, an architect in Vail.
“Harry was a good hunter and he enjoyed it a lot. It’s more about the camaraderie than it is hunting, telling jokes and stories … you had to have thick skin because he’d needle you from every angle and you had to put your guard down.”
Gray also had an immense intellectual side, Segerburg said.
“One of the things Harry really had was an incredible intellect and a lot of people saw that in him,” said Segerburg. “His humor was definitely tied to his intellect and that’s one of the things about Harry that was truly original and we truly loved.”
Segerburg said another unmistakable quality of Gray’s was his personal attire.
“He always wore those overalls,” said Segerburg. “You know those Oshkosh overalls … you could always pick him out in the crowd because he always wore them.”
Dawn Witlin can be reached at 748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.