Greater Things: Memories of President Sandra C. Gray
Honoring President Sandra C. Gray’s legacy of leadership at Asbury, we asked students, faculty, staff, alumni, administrators and friends to share their memories and messages of gratitude for Dr. Gray. Enjoy their responses below, and submit your own using the form at the bottom of this page.
Dr. David J. Gyertson
President of Asbury University, 1993-2000
Nancy joins me in celebrating and congratulating Dr. Sandra Gray on her consistent and faith-filled leadership of Asbury University across these critical transition years for Christian higher education. Few can appreciate the challenges that come with the Office of the President. First and foremost is fulfilling the mandate to keep the mission of “academic excellence and spiritual vitality” on point while adapting to the rapid changes of culture and context. Next, ensuring that resources are acquired and strategically allocated while being responsive to the varied and sometimes competing concerns of multiple constituencies. Finally, getting the right people placed and equipped to advance the sacred vision for the next generation that was given to our founder, John Wesley Hughes. Dr. Gray has done all of this while prayerfully preserving the theological essentials and distinctives of our Wesleyan heritage.
Each chapter of Asbury University’s history has demanded new leadership uniquely equipped in mind, heart, and hand to, as Charles Wesley’s hymn exhorts, “serve the present age, our calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will.” God’s faithfulness to those who are faithful has once again been demonstrated to our institution through Dr. Gray’s steady, focused and gracious guidance. Her servant leadership lifestyle, beautifully complemented by her husband Ken, is at the heart of why and how God has used their sacrificial contributions so effectively at Asbury and beyond. Well done, good and faithful servants!
Asbury University’s next chapter can be anticipated with great hope-filled expectations because of all Sandra and Ken have done to serve our Lord’s purposes for just such times as these.
Dr. William C. Crothers
Interim President of Asbury University, 2006-07
In the summer of 2006, when it was necessary to name an Interim Provost, Dr. Sandra Gray was clearly the preferred choice of the Board of Trustees, the campus community and Dr. Paul Radar, outgoing President. I enthusiastically concurred upon my first meeting with her. As Provost, Dr. Gray excelled; and after my repeated requests, she finally let her name stand for the Presidency. From that point on, I knew Asbury College would have the leadership it needed to thrive.
How blessed Asbury has been to have a President like Sandra Gray who personifies all that is great about the University. She has high integrity, a humble spirit and a kind heart. She is an inspiration and challenges all of us to be better. She models Christ-like leadership and people are attracted to her spirit and want to follow. She is a strategic leader and thoughtful in her decision-making. It was a true privilege to work with Sandy. She has elevated the status of Asbury University through her many professional engagements and by her commitment to excellence and exemplary Christian life.
Sandra has been blessed with a husband of unusual professional accomplishment and character who has allowed Sandy to realize her full potential, always supporting her in her position. Their love for each other is a wonderful model for students of a Christian marriage. Rilla and I greatly value our friendship with Ken and Sandy.
Dr. John Oswalt
President of Asbury University, 1983-86
I have been very grateful for President Gray’s faithful service to God and Asbury. She has led the institution with remarkable effectiveness. I have been especially grateful for two qualities she has brought to the task. First, her humility. Oftentimes people in authority must continually remind those who serve under them of their power and position. I have never sensed that in Dr. Gray. She has exercised the authority of her position ably, but without having to polish her own ego. The second quality that I have admired in her has been her sincere expression of Christian faith. There has never been a question but that she saw the first aspect of her task to be the spiritual one. This has meant that she has been very sensitive to the need for faculty whose Christian commitments were clear and unqualified. In these ways and more, Asbury University has been singularly fortunate in the presidency of Dr. Sandra Gray.
Dr. Paul A. Rader ’56
President of Asbury University, 2000-06
Asbury University has been gifted with the grace-filled, God-honoring and visionary leadership of President Sandra C. Gray. We are grateful. Committed to providing the best in Christ-centered Higher Education, she has led with courage, humility and bold faith. Confident of the future God has planned, she has guided the Asbury University community to ensure that through every dimension of its burgeoning and vital life, there sounds the clarion call to ‘Holiness unto the Lord.’ Thank you, Dr. Gray! God bless you and God bless Asbury University.
C.E. Crouse ’68
Former Chair, Asbury University Board of Trustees
“I’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Gray for the 12 years she has served Asbury as president. I’ve watched her deal with many different people and issues. In every situation there was a constant theme. Beyond trying to make a good decision, which she did, she was always concerned about how her decisions would affect the people involved. She has a genuine love and respect for our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. She would tell you that her heart is continually filled with the blessings, mercies and wisdom she receives from her Heavenly Father. She has certainly been a tremendous blessing to all of us.”
Larry Brown ’80
Chair, Asbury University Board of Trustees
“‘For such a time as this’ is a phrase Dr. Gray has used often as she acknowledges God’s perfect timing and provision. As president, she has optimized the phrase. No one doubts her reliance on the Lord, spiritual sensitivity nor dedication to the University. She was uniquely prepared for the role — experience, vision, management style and personality — and has carried it out flawlessly. Her interactions with the Board, the campus community and all of Asbury’s constituencies have been direct and handled with exceptional grace. On behalf of the Board, I thank Dr. Gray for her excellent spiritual and organizational leadership of the University. All will agree Dr. Gray has been the leader God chose ‘for such a time as this’ in Asbury’s journey.”
Dr. Dan Schafer
President, World Gospel Mission
Everyone knows that in this current American culture, superlatives are overused. So, when you say that Sandra Gray is among the top leaders you have ever met, others might be tempted to not take it seriously. They might view it as an overstatement, by the reality is that it would be difficult to overstate her leadership giftedness. The danger is far greater that it might be understated. Sandra’s leadership on the board of World Gospel Mission over the last decade plus has made WGM a better organization — much better. She will be greatly missed!
Harold B. Smith
President and CEO, Christianity Today
I simply can’t say enough about all Dr. Gray has meant to Christianity Today, CT’s Board of Directors (of which she’s been a part since 2010), and to me personally. Her time as chair of our Finance Committee was impressive enough. But even more compelling have been her timely reminders of God’s presence in our midst. His watchcare. And his steadfast direction as we together prayerfully make our way through the churning whitewater of publishing. With my own retirement at hand, I am especially grateful that Sandy’s unflinching trust in God will help anchor my successor and give great witness to the never-ending faithfulness of the One we seek to serve. Thank you, Sandy, for modeling for me what it means to lead in the name of our Risen King! And for always being ready to direct our ministry gaze upward.
Congressman Brett Guthrie
U.S. Representative, Kentucky’s 2nd District
When I was named chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee last Congress, one of the first people I turned to was Dr. Gray for her invaluable perspective on Christian higher education. She is extremely dedicated to the students and to the mission of Asbury University, and the school has thrived under her leadership. While I am sorry to see her leave, I offer my congratulations to Dr. Gray on her retirement and thank her for her years of service to Asbury.
President, Christian College Consortium
Asbury is one of 13 colleges which make up the Christian College Consortium. As a result, Sandy has been part of the CCC governing board during her time as President of Asbury. The CCC presidents meet twice a year to share and learn from one another. And Sandy has not only been a leader among the CCC presidents (serving as Chair of the CCC Board), she has also been our teacher, our friend and our very wise counselor. A huge gift.
From day one, Sandy was a wise counselor and an encourager, at the same time. So much needed. But so rare, at the same time. On the one hand, she’s willing to tell you the truth, even if you don’t want to hear it. On the other, she says it with a smile and huge heart; willing to not only tell you the truth but help you to find a better way. And it’s been hugely helpful, both to me and her fellow presidents on the CCC.
It’s impossible to put into a few sentences how she has been an advocate for Christian Higher Education. But she has done it in so many ways. Again, I think Sandy is an advocate for Christian higher education as much by her doing as her speaking. She has led in the CCC. She’s been a leader in the CCCU, as well. But she has also engaged the larger world of higher education, “showing” what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ in higher education. And everyone who works with her comes away… changed. Changed for the better.
She has been a blessing, mostly, be simply being a faithful presence. That’s her gift. She has also been there to help us work through some difficult moments, for sure. But she has also helped us to come together and learn from one another. She’s a facilitator, in many ways. Her goal isn’t to make her mark, but to help the team accomplish its mission. She’s a genuine servant-leader, in other words. And we have seen that, time after time. She’s the opposite of what often happens in leadership. The higher the responsibility she takes on, the more she lets go of herself. The bigger the task, the more she serves. When some become leaders, they become full of themselves. When Sandy leads, she is consumed by “the good” of those for whom she is responsible.
Integrity is something most of us value, but is not easily accomplished. It is particularly difficult in positions of leadership with multiple demands and quite varied constituencies. And yet, integrity “is” Sandy. It’s how she lives her life, whether in the pulpit or the pew; whether on stage or behind the scenes; whether with friends, fans or family. She doesn’t morph to master the moment. She lives the life to which the Lord has called her. Now. Always. Thanks be to God.
President, Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities
President Gray always has been a supporter and active participant in AIKCU activities. She has served in leadership positions on the AIKCU Board and offered Asbury facilities and personnel to host AIKCU events and activities. I have relied on her advice and personal support. I will miss her candid advice and counsel.
President Gray has been a solid supporter and advocate for Christian Higher Education while recognizing the value in collaborating with our members in advancing the larger cause of independent colleges. Her rock-solid support and low-key leadership style has been most valuable to me and AIKCU. When she speaks, her colleagues listen! Whatever she does next, it will be a blessing to those involved.
Harold Rainwater ’69
Mayor, Wilmore, Ky.
Our friendship and relationship as President and Mayor has been awesome. Many community mayors who have colleges in their town talk about the difficult situation of “Town and Gown.” That just has not happened in Wilmore. Dr. Gray has always respected and valued this town and its employees and leadership. From hosting dinners to helping fund community projects and needs, she has been involved.
She always made sure the town of Wilmore was represented when important events were on campus. As recently as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, she served in the food line to serve all the City of Wilmore employees at City Hall. Dr. Gray made my job easy in my dual role of working for Asbury and serving our town as mayor. I was Mr. Mayor and her Mayor — that made me always feel she had my back both as her director of Equine Program and Mayor of the town where her beloved Asbury University is located.
Dr. Gray has the uncanny ability to make everyone in the room feel important and appreciated. She is a gifted speaker, and anyone who heard her speak was impressed with Asbury. Each year she hosted a Chamber of Commerce Breakfast, and without exception, it was the best-attended event by members and guests, not only because the food was great, but also because what they learned about Asbury was inspiring.
Dr. Gray is not only respected and loved by her students, staff, and faculty, but by everyone she comes in contact with. The business community of Central Kentucky respects and knows of her everywhere I travel. From Washington, D.C. to Frankfort, Lexington and Wilmore, she is admired and respected. I am very blessed to have had the opportunity to work for and with a leader of such high morals and abilities.
Here’s a little-known fact — Dr. Gray can plow.
On the opening of the Mission Farm out at the Equine Center about 10 years ago, we were wanting her to work a horse pulling a plow. Upon the “Bet She Won’t” of about 50 students, she calmly walked over to a draft horse hooked to a plow, took hold and said “Get up,” and to the roar of her students, she plowed a whole row. She then turned and smiled that smile and walked over to her new fans! I am still a fan of hers.
Shirley V. Hoogstra, J.D.
President, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities
Sandra Gray has been one of the consummate leaders of Christian higher education. In her presidency at Asbury, she showed her strength as a leader who takes on new challenges and breaks boundaries. When Sandy came on as president, she had a deep intellect and understanding about the complexity of Christian higher education that was coupled with a profound love for students, faculty, and staff. This combination meant she ensured that any business decision reflected the care for the people under her span of care and leadership.
Not only did this help Asbury grow in her 29 years there, including the 12 she served as president, it has also helped the CCCU grow as well. This reflects her commitments as a world leader who is deeply passionate about both global issues and local events. Sandy has been highly involved and invested in the work of the CCCU as it advances faith and intellect for the common good. She served for five years on the CCCU’s Board of Directors, including as treasurer, and also served as a part of a key membership task force that helped the CCCU clarify its membership guidelines. Her commitment to the global work of Christian higher education, her interest and engagement in the advocacy work of the CCCU, her collegiality with her peers from other CCCU institutions and her conviction of the value of a faith-integrated education experience have served as a great example for the CCCU.
Every successful leader has people who help lift their arms in order to do the tough work, as Joshua did for Moses. God provided for Sandy Gray a Joshua of her own in her spouse, Ken, a professional in his own right. Their partnership and love for each other is another reflection of their deep love for the Lord and for their community.
Stan Key ’75
President, Francis Asbury Society
Of all the amazing qualities that came together to make Moses the world-class leader that he was, perhaps the most surprising is his humility. “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3, NIV). Apparently, in God’s eyes, great leadership and great humility go together.
I know of no better way to talk about the leadership impact of Sandy Gray than to underscore the far-reaching influence of her humility. Whether manifest in her open countenance, her accessibility, her transparency, her bold stand on moral issues, her obvious love for members of the community or the way she prayed with students at the altar in Hughes Auditorium, the aroma of her humble spirit is perhaps the defining legacy of her leadership style.
My own experience of Sandy’s leadership was not as a member of the university community but rather as the leader of another organization across town. Sandy initiated contact with our small ministry, and from my first arrival in Wilmore, assured me of her genuine interest in our missional success. Her friendly warmth and transparent spirit created a climate where our ministry felt secure, affirmed and promoted. I’m sure our experience is not unique and that scores of other similar stories could be told from other organizations that have worked in the shadow of Asbury University.
Arrogance in leadership is a violation of our holiness heritage. It can only lead an organization to ruin or to succeeding in achieving the wrong purpose. Thank God for Sandy Gray! Her humble manner and courageous leadership have left a Godly legacy that will bless us for many years to come.
Mei Lan Ou ’94 Thallman
Young Adult Staff, Grace Covenant Church (Pa.)
Dr. Gray is my Spiritual Mom, mentor, friend. We have kept in touch through the years. Her friendship/mentorship made a life-long difference as well as an eternal impact on my life. I was the first Christian in my family… the value of my new-found faith was in conflict a lot of times with the value I was brought up in… both family and culture. God used Dr. Gray’s life to influence me in a powerful way. I looked up to her as an example of a Godly woman in and out of class room. She took great interest and care in me as a student. She taught me how to pray and encouraged me to seek and follow God’s will for my life.
We prayed together to seek God’s will for my life and for the salvation of our family members. After more than 10 years of praying, my mom came to faith in Jesus. I continue to reach out to her for advice even today. Her spiritual leadership had a powerful impact on campus and extended a Kingdom impact throughout the world. Her strong and intimate relationship with Jesus overflowed through who she is and all she does.
The passion I have to influence the world — in particular, through reaching the young adults of this generation — came from her and many other professors at Asbury. I became who I am today through them. I was loved and taught in the Lord so well that I cannot help but to pass on that blessing and great spiritual heritage I received through my foundational years at Asbury.
Dr. Gray loves Jesus wholeheartedly; she loves Asbury; she loves people. That love has grown deeper in increasing measures through the years. Those who have known her and been touched by her are blessed beyond measure.
Victoria McClary ’17
Youth Ministry Leader, Wilmore United Methodist Church (Ky.)
My relationship with Dr. Gray has been and continues to be one that has deeply impacted me and shaped the ways in which I have learned how to be a better leader and how to deepen my walk with God and my prayer life.
Her mentorship has impacted my life immensely. When I first asked her if she would be willing to be my mentor during the spring semester of my junior year, I was unsure whether she would be able to due to her busy traveling schedule. I was surprised and thrilled when she said she would be able to be my mentor, because I had looked up to her as a woman in leadership on our campus and as someone whom I could so clearly see was walking in the Spirit. One of the other aspects of our mentoring relationship that has impacted me is knowing that she prays for me and with me. She modeled devotion to a life of prayer which encouraged me to be more intentional with prayer and to live a life of praying without ceasing. During various points of her mentorship, she has challenged me in my walk with Christ, but also given me different words of advice and encouragement. I have also appreciated the ways in which she will spontaneously check in with me and see how I am doing. Even though she is busy, it makes a difference to know that she took time out of her schedule to see how I have been doing. Mostly what stands out to me is the fact that she is so giving, whether that is through giving of time or prayer.
Her spiritual leadership has impacted the Asbury University community in deep and lasting ways. I know her to be a woman of prayer and I know that she has always been in prayer for various decisions made during her presidency. While I am sad that she will be retiring at the end of the 2019 school year, I am certain her legacy of leadership will be remembered for years to come.
Kayleen Bengtson ’16
Mortgage Loan Officer, Bank of America (Texas)
I first met Dr. Gray while in high school during my college visit. Starting my freshman year, Dr. Gray and I would meet about once a semester for coffee. I had the privilege of learning more of her story – the great trials and triumphs – the following four years. Listening to her speak is like drinking from a fire hydrant of wisdom. It always amazed me that even amidst all that was going on in her world she still made time to be intentional and fully present. She became not only someone I admired from afar but also a dear friend.
In reflecting on Dr. Gray’s legacy, one of the most outstanding qualities about her is simply her kindness. She is full of compassion to all. I think that’s a beautiful picture of evangelism and discipleship because, ultimately, it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. Whether in a meeting with the Board of Trustees or passing a student in the Cafeteria, she makes every person in the room feel that they are seen, heard and valued. She is full of strength and power, yet leads with such grace and humility.
Pablo Velazquez ’95
Dr. Gray is one of the most amazing saints I know. A few years back, a few of my former classmates and I went back to visit Asbury and were able to make it to Chapel. Out of the blue, she invited us to her office. When we got there, she asked for updates on our lives and then shared memories of when we were students of hers. She even had one of the show-and-tell items one of us turned in for a report we had done in her class. And this was from 20 years prior! She hasn’t lost a step since being my accounting professor now some 25 years ago.
She still has a razor-sharp intellect only to be matched by her Spirit-filled heart. She has moved with courage, by faith to face the incredible obstacles of the past few years in this new landscape challenging Christian Universities all over the country. She is a leading servant at the feet of the ultimate Servant, and that is how I shall remember Dr. Gray.
Dr. Bonnie Banker
“Who could have dreamed that when you first joined the faculty, we would enjoy 30 years of friendship? Who would have imagined when I came to your Lexington office with application materials, soon to follow with a stack of textbooks to start teaching at Asbury in a week, that you would so willingly respond to God’s new direction for your life? Or who could have imagined, after that unexpected beginning, all of the various positions you have held and all the countless hours of committee meetings in which we have had the opportunity to collaborate? How God has blessed in immeasurable ways!
We have lots of stories that bring us joy and lots of laughter! Doing trust walks and playing games with students at retreats. Launching a women’s investment group! Teaching and doing our graduate work at the same time. Those events are balanced by challenges that taught us more about leaning on Him. Thank you for being such a great model of Christian servanthood. You have taught me so much.
Thank you for being such a faithful friend, but even more for listening to God’s direction. Asbury University has been blessed in innumerable ways through your steadfast, Godly leadership across the years. Your incredible influence can only be fully measured in eternity. Asbury University has been the benefactor of your faithful service! Blessings, my friend!
Dr. Burnam Reynolds ’70
As a faculty member of Asbury University since 1973, I’ve been with the University through a large variety of leadership and institutional changes. Though the changes were many, Dr. Gray’s leadership provided a necessary and appreciated stability to the University environment. I will always appreciate the stability that we had as an institution thanks to her. She has remained with the University for twelve years and her commitment to not only Asbury, but to Christian higher education is evident. I will also remember her for the kindness she always displayed to others as I worked with her as both president and as a fellow professor. As a Wilmore native and someone who truly loves Asbury, it was inspiring to see Dr. Gray steward her time as president so well. Christian higher education has seen so many changes and challenges over the last few decades and Dr. Gray’s leadership provided the steady hand needed to navigate that water. I wish her the best in her next phase of life.
Stephanie Beltran ’19
Dr. Gray has inspired me to push through any barriers and to do it while giving glory to God. She’s been instrumental in the growth — in terms of diversity and intercultural programming — at Asbury and that has been a huge part of my life. I once met with her to talk about the possibility of having a position like Student Intercultural Programs (in student government) and not only was she in full support of it, but she desired to continue the conversation. Because of her desire and eagerness to further this conversation, we were able to have the Racial Reconciliation conference here at Asbury. My freshman year, Emerging Leaders were invited to her house. During prayer requests, I explained it was the first time I’d really been away from home (a thousand miles away) and it was taking a toll on me. Not only did she offer to pray for me, but she also opened up her home to me. Such a kind gesture from such a kind and genuine person.
Dr. Gray’s article, “To Know and to Be Known” was such an encouragement to me. It helps me appreciate the time I spent at Asbury-’63-’67. Her writings reveal the impact of her personal intimacy with Jesus and His word.
Her mention of the chair where she spent time in prayer — her “mercy seat” reminded me of the first time I recall the Holy Spirit responding to a prayer for understanding. Interestingly it was after spending time reading in Matthew 16 also. There couldn’t be a more timely message for our nation or for each of us — to continue seeking to know God better and who we are according to His word.