HUNTINGTON — Huntington said goodbye Monday to a woman who shaped the lives of generations of Huntington children through the founding of River Valley Child Development Services.
Dr. Norma Gray, 89, died Thursday. Family and friends gathered Monday afternoon for a memorial service at Beard Mortuary in Huntington.
In 1971, Gray founded the program that would eventually lead to River Valley Child Development Services after being asked to lead the start of early childhood demonstration centers.
Suzi Brodof, executive director for RVCD, said thousands of children have benefited either directly or indirectly by the vision and passion Gray had.
"What Norma Gray did for children in West Virginia is put their needs first," said Suzi Brodof, executive director of RVCD. "She always tried to fill the need in the community when it came to young children. She realized the best way to help children get the best quality care was to make sure their caregivers were well-trained. She began an early childhood conference in Huntington and brought in the experts from around the country to present the most current information on early childhood. She developed an apprenticeship program for people who were providing care for young children in child care settings that became a model for others around the country. That program, ACDS, has trained more than 3,000 early childhood professionals."
Brodof said many in the early childhood development field are grateful to have been mentored, encouraged and inspired by Gray.
"She served as a mentor for many in the early childhood field in West Virginia and some of those people are now college professors, Headstart administrators, and Birth to 3 practitioners," she said. "She developed seven child care centers in the state, that all met the high standards of national accreditation by NAEYC. She opened after-school programs in more than 10 different schools in the Huntington area."
In a 2016 interview with The Herald-Dispatch, Gray said she always had a passion for teaching – giving accordion lessons was her first teaching job – but it was the birth of her daughter, Barbara, that led to her fascination with early childhood development.
"I enjoyed those years so much," Gray said. "I couldn't believe all that babies could do from the very beginning. I kept reading and reading and then I was volunteering in the nursery at (Highlawn Baptist Church)."
Gray went on to receive a bachelor's degree in early childhood development and taught at Cabell School while she earned her master's degree. During this time she served on a state committee to start state-wide kindergarten.
It was while pursuing her doctorate at Marshall University that she was approached about starting the development centers.
Gray was River Valley's executive director for 27 years, until her retirement in 1998, after which she spent some years contracting with the governor's office to assist centers in achieving national accreditation.