Dr. George Gray Jr., a noted neurosurgeon who established the first electroencephalogram laboratory in Pittsburgh and served as chief of staff at three local hospitals, died Friday of congestive heart failure in St. Clair Hospital. He was 94.
Born in Munhall, Dr. Gray was the product of generations of the region’s working-class families. But by the time he was in the fourth grade, his daughter Linda Gray Perri said, he knew he wanted to be a doctor.
“He said he thought, ‘I would love to be a surgeon,’” she said. “He had the goal of helping people, and he was good in science and anything that had to do with medicine.”
He earned his medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1946 and interned at Mercy Hospital before enlisting in the Army for a two-year stint in Japan. His talent was quickly rewarded as he was tapped as chief pathologist at the 18th Station Hospital in Osaka and a consulting pathologist for Southern Honshu.
When he returned to Pittsburgh, he and his wife, Marjorie, whom he had met in the seventh grade, started their family. Dr. Gray returned to Mercy Hospital, where he was a neurosurgeon for four years before accepting a research fellowship in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. After two years, he came back to Pittsburgh to be chief of the Division of Neurological Surgery at Mercy Hospital. He also practiced at South Side Hospital and St.Clair Hospital, and served as chief of staff at all three.
“He was the most honest, compassionate man ever,” Ms. Perri said. “He prayed every time before he went into an operation. And he was a true doctor. He used to go into the Hill District and deliver babies. He said he delivered 50 babies there. He would go there carrying his little black bag, and everyone knew it was the doctor and he had total respect from everyone.”
Dolores Hyzy, of Lawrenceville, was a secretary for Dr. Gray from 1950 at Mercy Hospital until he retired in 1986.
“He opened the electroencephalographic laboratory at Mercy,” Ms. Hyzy said. “He initiated that with special testings for epilepsy. He dabbled in that. It frightened the death out of me to witness anybody having a seizure, but sometimes they tried to induce one so they could study it. He was looking for what would trigger a seizure, like photosensitivity.
“He was a brilliant man. He wouldn’t hesitate to try something new. And other doctors followed him. He was the chief of the neurological training program at Mercy, teaching all these neurosurgeons. We had quite a few of them, getting these guys ready to prepare them for their wards. And everybody loved Dr. Gray. They admired him because he took his time with them. And when they went to their boards, everyone passed successfully.”
Ms. Perri said her father invented a probe that was inserted into a patient’s brain as part of his research into Parkinson’s disease.
“It was very minute, very precise,” she said. “And it was amazing. The person would be shaking all over, and then he would say, ‘Please hold your hand out now.’ And the person had stopped shaking. He said it was the most gratification he could have asked for.”
Dr. Gray also was a charter member of the Pittsburgh Academy of Medicine Thespian Group, a loose organization of doctors who produced musical comedies for the amusement of professional men -- women were not permitted to participate or view it. One year, Ms. Perri said, Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty, who served from 1970 to 1977, took part.
But there were sad moments in his life as well. Ms. Perri said that as recently as last week her father was lamenting that he never knew his father, who was struck by a drunken driver and killed as he disembarked from a trolley a month before Dr. Gray was born.
The ultimate tragedy, however, occurred on Christmas morning 1995, when Dr. Gray was forced to protect himself and his wife by shooting and killing his own son, Robert, during a confrontation in their Upper St. Clair home. Robert, who had a history of drinking problems and was serving an 18-month home detention sentence for a drunken-driving conviction, was assaulting the couple when Dr. Gray fired a single shot in what was determined to be self-defense.
Dr. Gray earned many medical honors during his life, including terms as Pittsburgh Academy of Medicine president and director of the Allegheny County Medical Society. But Ms. Perri said an award from Penn’s Woods West Trout Unlimited in Wildwood -- for tying trout flies -- was among his favorites.
The organization’s citation in 2007 noted that Dr. Gray’s “medical training and skill in suturing -- closing open wounds with needle and threat -- are reflected in his work at the vice. On all the flies, there is not one thread turned too many or one too few. The proportions are perfect. There is a delicate and precise touch in every aspect of their construction, from the tip of the fly’s tail to the eye of the hook. His tying techniques are superb, well beyond those of many professional tiers.”
Survivors include sons Richard H. Gray of Oakmont and William A. Gray of Ashburn, Va.; daughters Linda Perri of Upper St. Clair and Deborah S. Worden of Bridgeville; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
A funeral is set for noon today at William Slater II Funeral Home on Greentree Road in Scott Township.
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1456.