A: After visiting my grandmother in a nursing home, I — at age 24 — decided I could do an even better job of running one. I went to night school at OU for a semester to earn the necessary license, talked to experts and bought land in south Oklahoma City, where I developed and owned the South Park Health Care Center. Since I worked through college, I still had the money my parents gave me for my education. About that same time, The Children’s Center coincidentally — or fortuitously — was getting ready to close down and needed someone with a nursing home license to help them close. In those days, the center was licensed as a nursing home for children who needed long-term care. I was suggested by my sister Carol Gray, who’d been volunteering there for a year and still works here as chief operating officer.
Q: Did you originally intend to save the center?
A: No, I took the board at its word that it needed to be closed. But I think God uses youthful people some time. I looked at the kids and what the center potentially could do for the community and couldn’t let it close down. The center had been losing $10,000 a month, but we started operating within our budget and, within a few months, stopped the bleeding and turned things around. For the first 10 years, I mowed the lawn, and for 15 years, took the same $700-a-month stipend. I’ve always earned my living outside of here, through real estate, farming and other interests, and I was lucky enough to have the right parents. After they sold their business, they joined my sister here as volunteers and donated money along with many of us employees.
Q: You credit the community for the center’s greatest achievements. Why?
A: That’s right. At age 24 or 25, I had the opportunity to seek counsel from people like Dr. Bill Thurman at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, the Noble Foundation in Ardmore, the late Jean Gumerson with the Presbyterian Health Foundation and Lloyd Rader, who headed DHS. The good Lord brought the right people to the table with us. Community volunteer Wanda Swisher connected us with the Gaylord family, the Noble Foundation, Mabee and Inasmuch foundations, and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which donated the $9.7 million to build our new 150,000-square foot rehab hospital in 1997.
Q: Over the past three decades, have you ever thought about leaving?
A: I think it’s human to want to do something else. But down deep, I know that I’m doing the right thing, and we’re always expanding. Sometimes, society doesn’t think kids are as important (as other things). But they are. Throughout my life, I’ve tried to adhere to the principles my parents taught me — to work hard and to honor God in my daily work.
•Position: The Children’s Center, chief executive officer
•Birth date: July 19, 1953
•Home church: Crossings Community Church
•Family: Kimberly Gray, married seven years; sons Aaron Gray, who works in analysis for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and Justin Gray, a U.S. Air Force major in Alaska; daughter Jennifer Seachrist, director of outpatient services at The Children’s Center; and three grandchildren, ages 1 to 8.
•Education: Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU), bachelor’s in chemistry
•Sideline enterprises: He owns Mustang-based Industrial Gasket, which manufactures parts for Halliburton, Baker Hughes and others, and holds oil and ranching interests in western Oklahoma.
•Professional memberships: Oklahoma Hospital Association, Economic Club of Oklahoma, Rotary Club of West Oklahoma City, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Northwest Chamber of Commerce
•On the e-reader: “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman
•For fun: Riding motorcycles and flying airplanes