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Gray Family & Graylyn Estate Collection

Special Collections & Archives

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This collection features images from the Gray Family Collection and Graylyn Estate Collection housed at Z. Smith Reynolds Library. The Graylyn Estate was originally the home of Bowman Gray, Senior, and Nathalie Lyons Gray.

The Gray Family of Winston-Salem, N.C., included Bowman Gray, Sr., (1874-1935), a banker and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) executive; his wife Nathalie Fontaine Lyons Gray (1884-1961); Bowman's father James Alexander Gray, Sr., (1846-1918) founder of Wachovia Bank and Trust; the children of Bowman, Sr., and Nathalie, sons Bowman Gray, Jr., (1907-1969), RJR chairman and benefactor of Wake Forest University Bowman Gray School of Medicine, and Gordon Gray (1909-1982), who served as a federal government official during the Eisenhower Administration and President of the University of North Carolina system.

Bowman Gray was born in 1874 in Winston, N.C. to Wachovia Bank and Trust co-founder James Alexander Gray and Aurelia Bowman. Bowman Gray attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1890-1891 before leaving to become a clerk at Wachovia. In 1895, he began working at R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company as a salesman at RJR in 1895 and became a manager in 1897. His work at Reynolds moved Gray to Baltimore, where he met and married Nathalie Fontaine Lyons. The couple had two sons, Bowman, Jr., and Gordon while living in Baltimore, but the family relocated to Bowman, Sr.’s hometown in 1912 after Reynolds Company founder, Richard Joshua (R.J.) Reynolds, selected him to lead the company’s finance division. After twelve years in this role, Bowman, Sr., succeeded Reynolds' brother, William Neal, as president of RJR.

Between 1927 and 1932, Bowman Sr. and Nathalie oversaw the construction of the family estate, Graylyn, located across from the Reynolda estate of R.J. and Katherine Reynolds. In 1935, two years after the Grays moved into Graylyn, Bowman, Sr., died of a heart attack aboard a ship and was buried at sea. He bequeathed $750,000 of RJR stock to be used for a charitable endeavor and the family eventually decided the money would be used to establish a four-year medical school. A stipulation for accepting the gift was to relocate to Winston-Salem, N.C. Wake Forest University, then known as Wake Forest College, agreed to relocate its two-year medical school from Wake Forest to Winston-Salem. The Bowman Gray School of Medicine and the hospital, which were followed by the whole university, have been key contributors to the area's economic infrastructure and community. Graylyn Estate was also donated to the Bowman Gray School of Medicine. In 1972, Gordon Gray purchased the home from the medical school and donated it to the University. The house was used for academic programs and student housing until 1980, when the top floor of the estate caught on fire. Following the fire, University president James Ralph Scales declared that the property would be restored to its original condition and repurposed.

Bowman Gray, Jr., was born in 1907 in Baltimore, M.D. to Bowman, Sr., and Nathalie Fontaine Lyons Gray. He attended the Reynolda School in Winston-Salem, Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1929, Bowman, Jr., became a salesman with RJR and then vice-president(1949). He was appointed sales manager (1952) executive vice-president (1955). Gray was president of the company from 1957-1959, when he became chairman of the board and chief executive officer. He stepped down as chief executive officer in 1967 and remained chairman of the board until his death in 1969. Bowman, Jr., also served as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves. He was on active duty in Norfolk, Virginia., where he helped develop plans and procedures for Navy intelligence. In 1936, Bowman, Jr. married Elizabeth (Libby) Palmer Christian of Richmond, Virginia. They had five sons: Bowman III, Frank Christian, Robert Daniel, Lyons, and Peyton Randolph. In 1969, Bowman Jr. died at his Winston-Salem home, Brookberry Farm, and is buried in Salem Cemetery. Gray actively donated to local orphanages and schools and other philanthropic projects.

The Gray family collection was donated to Special Collections & Archives (Wake Forest University) by one of Bowman Gray, Jr.’s sons, Lyons Gray. The Graylyn Estate records are part of the University Archives (Special Collections & Archives).