Lt. Gen. Robert E. Gray, a former Fort Gordon commander and chief of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, died Wednesday in a two-vehicle accident outside Millen, Ga.
As Fort Gordon’s first black commander, Gray diversified leadership at a time when the black population was increasing in Augusta, former Mayor Bob Young said.
Gray commanded the Army post from May to July 1990 and August 1991 to July 1994. He retired from the Army in 1997 with more than 31 years of service.
In recent years, Gray served as chairman of the Columbia County Democratic Party.
Jenkins County Coroner Henry Young said Gray was driving a pickup on the Georgia Highway 21 bypass when his vehicle collided with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. The accident occurred between 6 and 6:30 a.m.
Georgia State Patrol Senior Trooper Bruce Rowell said Gray ran a stop sign. There were no passengers in Gray’s vehicle, the coroner said.
Gray was remembered Wednesday as a strong leader who remained active in community affairs after his retirement.
“He understood the importance of the ties of the military post and the city. He did everything he could to strengthen it,” Bob Young said. “His door was always open to us. He was a very engaged member of our community.
“I thought it was very important for this community to have an African-American in a key leadership position,” he continued. “He was extremely competent.”
After leaving Fort Gordon in 1994, Gray served with the U.S. Army Europe and the 7th Army. Other positions included 35th Signal Brigade commander at Fort Bragg, N.C., and deputy director for plans, programs and systems for the Office of the Secretary of the Army during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Gray oversaw Fort Gordon’s expansion after the Persian Gulf War when three units were moved to the base during the nation’s Base Realignment and Closure initiatives.
He was also instrumental in initiating changes to technology and enhanced technical training used by the Signal Center, according to military officials.
Pat Blanchard served as the chairman of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee during Gray’s command.
“I was always very impressed with him. He was a capable leader and a great man. I was deeply saddened by the news today,” said Blanchard, the board vice chairman for First Bank of Georgia.
Gray’s good citizenship continued after his appointment at Fort Gordon ended. He was a familiar face at community events and veteran services and supported community initiatives, Blanchard said.
“He had a lot of leadership skills and, as they say in the military, he was a great soldier,” he said.
Clint Bryant, Augusta State University’s athletic director, was a longtime friend. The two used to meet monthly as part of a group called the Ten Club to discuss intellectual topics.
“He was very bright, very smart. I can tell you one thing, he loved his country,” Bryant said. “This community, our nation has lost a great commander.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Bruce Harris, the commander of Fort Gordon from June 1986 to June 1988, said he was saddened by the loss of an individual he knew as an outstanding soldier.
“I knew his talents and watched everything he was able to do,” Harris said. “It’s tragic that it had to happen the way it did.”