Despite the downpour, last Saturday was one of those days when I really love what I do for a living. I went to Scituate, a little town 22 miles southeast of Boston, to interview Neal Gray, “Mr. Fix-It” for the Scituate Harbor Yacht Club for the past 16 years.
Gray kindly met me at the Park-n-Ride lot off Route 3 to lead me through the woods to the cozy “bachelor’s barn” that he and his late wife converted from a fire station in the 1950s. He drives a Subaru, but he used be a Grand Prix driver and when it acts up he gets behind the wheel of a sleek gray TVR. “It’s annoying to have people say, ‘You drive to Boston? At night?’ like it’s impossible for an 83-year-old to do,” he admits. Most of the trips are to rehearsals for one of the three Gospel choirs he belongs to, and Neal serves as taxi for many of his “Angels” — fellow singers and friends. [The clip below is Gray singing John Denver’s “Perhaps Love” to the accompaniment of his player piano.]
Gray may have inherited his love of driving from his father, who got into the automobile business by chance. On a train to New York to attend a carriage convention, he joined an Englishman in the dining car. “My father considered cars to be ‘toys for the rich,’ but the Englishman told him there would be soon cars for everyone,” Gray recounts. So my father thought, ‘The hell with New York’ and went on to Detroit with the Englishman for the automobile convention!” That was in 1896 or so, and he immediately started up a successful business making headlamps for cars.
Gray followed the interview with a house tour, showing me a selection of Gray & Davis Inc.’s gorgeous brass headlamps, portraits of his wife, nautical paintings by local artists, and his own spectacular panoramic nature photographs, many of which decorate the walls of the Yacht Club. He stopped by a photo of a woman flashing a huge smile over her shoulder. “That’s Barb, one of my Angels. She was in the hot flash time of life and we were about to go on stage.” I looked closer: surrounded by purple robes, the woman was in a tank top. Gray continued: “I had two cold-packs in my pocket. I snapped ‘em open and slid them over to her. That’s the smile I got in return.”
Beginning to see why this guy’s so special? His father always said, “Act natural. Don’t put on airs.” Having taking this advice to heart, Gray is genuinely humble — not an attribute that jumps to mind when it comes to the “Me Generation.”