Bertha Gray died peacefully on June 4, 2008, at the Island Commons on Chebeague Island, with her family at her bedside.
She was born Bertha Mae Fieste on December 9, 1905, in rural central Pennsylvania. Her parents were Harry and Cora Fieste. Orphaned in her early teens, she was taken in by a neighboring farm family. After high school, she had the venturesomeness to travel east to Philadelphia for study at the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing (1924-27), where she received her nursing degree. There she met and married a North Carolinian, Garland Alonza Gray, who was completing his medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania. When Dr. Gray was commissioned as a surgeon in the United States Navy Medical Corps, he and Bertha began a career of service to their country that lasted through the war years until his retirement from duty in the 1950's. From Honolulu, Hawaii, to Kodiak, Alaska, through stateside waiting while he served in the Pacific theater, to postings at numerous naval hospitals, Bertha made a home for her husband and two children, Sheila and Garland, Jr. Whenever there was need and opportunity, she returned to nursing.
In the mid-1950's, the Grays came to Chebeague Island, where they purchased the Falmouth House. It was the "anchor," in Bertha's words, that she had always wanted for her family. There they began a second life of participation and service in the island community. Initially summer residents, while Dr. Gray served as physician at the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, they came to live year-round on Chebeague during his second retirement. The Falmouth house became an informal dispensary, where Dr. Gray volunteered medical care with Bertha by his side. Upon his death in 1983, she chose to remain on their beloved island.
For 25 years Bertha thrived in her Chebeague community, continuing to live in the Falmouth House until she was just short of 100, when she moved to the Island Commons for assisted living. A faithful member of the Chebeague Island Methodist Church, she prepared communion and worked actively for the Ladies Aid. Well into her nineties, she delivered Meals on Wheels and offered to carry the bags of others on and off the ferry boat. In every way she could, Bertha joined in island activities, community meals, and gatherings. Her door was always open for neighbor children and friends. Almost daily she baked chocolate chip cookies, and on the chimney of the house next door, a seagull waited for its morning boiled egg and buttered toast. Passersby would see her in her garden, raking leaves, or shoveling snow--often beyond the bounds of her own yard. Her family was constantly told that she was "amazing," but Bertha did not think so. Independent , unassuming, giving naturally, she went about her days. In 2002, she received a Living Legacy Award, honoring volunteerism, from the Southern Maine Agency on Aging. Long lived, she was presented with Cumberland's Boston Post Cane as its eldest citizen.
More recently, when recognized on her birthday in the Chebeague church, she said to the congregation, "I have had a happy life." She was a wonderful mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Grateful for her life, her proud and loving survivors are: daughter Sheila Gray Jordan and her husband, Philip, of Chebeague; son Garland A. Gray, Jr. and his wife, Briana, of Danvers, Massachusetts; grandson John Jordan, a Chebeague lobsterman, and his wife, Catarina, of Yarmouth; grandson Philip Jordan and his wife, Jing, of Lawrenceville, New Jersey; grandson Thomas Gray of Key West, Florida; grandson David Gray and his wife, Julie, of Keene, New Hampshire; and seven great- grandchildren.
There will be a service of remembrance in the Chebeague Church
on June 21 at 11 AM.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Chebeague United Methodist Church and to the Island Commons.