Labor mourns the death of J.R. Gray, a longtime labor ally in Frankfort


AFT Local 1360

J.R. Gray of Benton, a former state labor secretary, longtime state representative, union activist and devout Democrat, died Wednesday at age 83.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

"We are very saddened by the passing of our good friend and brother J.R. Gray who spent more than two dozen years in the House with a 100 percent voting record for working people and organized labor," said Bill Londrigan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president. "While he was chair of the House Labor and Industry Committee he was a stalwart advocate for us and was somebody we could rely upon to protect the interest of working families. He did it with a great deal of grace and solidarity.

"Whenever we needed anything from J.R. he was there for us every time."

Born in Lyon County in 1938, Gray joined the International Association of Machinists in 1964 as a member of Calvert City Local 1294. He was elected directing business representative for IAM District Lodge 154 in 1967, a post he held for many years. 

Gray served in the House from 1976 to 1989 and from 1995 to 2007, when Gov. Steve Beshear, also a Democrat, named him his first labor secretary. Gray retired in 2011.

“This is a great appointment for the working men and women of Kentucky,” said then IAM President Tom Buffenbarger. “J.R. Gray has a deep commitment to better the lives of working families and it has shown through in everything he has done in his outstanding career.”

“J.R. Gray dedicated himself to looking out for working men and women,” said then IAM Southern Territory General Vice President Bob Martinez, who is now IAM international president. “In the Kentucky House he fought for legislation that benefited workers, but just as important, he was a crucial ally to block bad legislation anti-labor interests were always trying to push through. Working families will have a true friend at Kentucky’s Labor Department.”

 Gray retired in 2011. “Leading the Labor Cabinet has been the culmination of an exciting career, from becoming a machinist in my 20s to representing the good people of the 6th House District in the state legislature to Cabinet Secretary,” Gray said in a news release. “I am proud of the work of the Labor Cabinet under my leadership in protecting the safety and well-being of Kentucky workers.

“However, I have reached a point in my life where, after a very satisfying and rewarding career, I am ready to slow down, and spend more time with my loving family.”

Gray received many awards and honors, including the W. C. Young Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO.