Association for Union Democracy

In Memoriam: Lois Gray

Lois Gray (1923-2018)

On September 20th, the American Labor Movement and the Association for Union Democracy lost a great ally and advocate in Lois Gray, Professor at Cornell’s School for Industrial Labor Relations (ILR). Prof. Gray was deeply involved with a variety of different labor organizations and support groups alike. One such group was our very own Association for Union Democracy, which she had been a subscriber and confederate for some decades.

Prof. Gray was born in Oklahoma, the daughter of socially conscious minister and his likewise politically astute wife and attended both Northwestern and Washington University during the 1940s. Gray eventually became a trained economist, earning her doctorate at Columbia University, being one of the very few women in her graduating class. Gray became involved with Cornell ILR only a year after it’s founding, first from her home in Buffalo and, eventually, coming to New York City to head it’s Manhattan center. Though she spent much of her life in academia and rubbed shoulders with the leadership of organized labor, Gray always emphasized in her teaching (as well as her involvements outside the classroom) the central importance of addressing rank-and-file membership concerns. Gray often acted as a mentor and political guru to women, migrant, and minority unionists, who were more often than not sidelined by the mainstream union leaders.

Included in her concerns for broadly marginalized groups was a deep and abiding allegiance to union democracy and to AUD in particular, having been a colleague of Herman Benson in the 1940s. Gray believed deeply both the transformative power of organized labor and its responsibility to respect the dignity and unalienable rights of its members. American Labor has lost one of its great lights and she will surely be missed.

Lois Gray was 94 years old and is survived by her niece, nephew, and step son.

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