FORTY YEARS ago, Ed and Joan Gray signed up for the journey of a lifetime.
From navigating the early challenges of blending families to exploring the world of education and later venturing on global travels, the Grays have covered the immeasurable territory of their lives, turning every chapter into a captivating tale of shared experiences and boundless love. They prioritize making memories together and with their ever-growing family, following an itinerary of their passion for life.
With four adult children, 10 grandchildren, four of whom are married, and six great-grandchildren with the seventh on the way, to say the Grays have a large family is like saying the Grand Canyon is just a simple crack in the earth’s crust. They happily shuttle their grands and great-grands every chance they get, and their home is the weekend family destination.
“Our family means so much to us,” said Joan. “Our house is large, and we have a swimming pool and 15 acres, so it’s where everybody comes on weekends. Much of the time, we’ll have 20 to 30 children and adults, or sometimes, just the younger kids will be here swimming. We have almost all of our family celebrations here.”
Education is also an important factor in Ed and Joan’s lives. So much so that they made it their mutual lifetime careers, beginning as teachers and then as educational administrators. Joan was an English teacher for 35 years and then director of technology and secondary instructional supervisor for 10 years before retirement. Ed progressed from teacher to principal, to supervisor, to assistant superintendent, and finally to superintendent of Bedford County Schools.
Both retired in 2011 with 45 years of experience each, and Joan went on to work part-time as executive director of the Tennessee Educational Technology Association until 2020.
Ed and Joan loved working with students and fellow teachers. Joan reflects, “When Ed was principal at Community, a K-12 school in the same building, he could walk down the halls and call almost every student by name. The little kindergarten students would come up to him, hug him, and grab his leg in the hall. He’s a very laidback person — a good listener and a caring educator. Ed was Mike Bone’s assistant superintendent, and they were a great team that did so much for education in Bedford County together. Learning Way, Harris, and Community High School were built while they were there, and Central High School was renovated. When Mike retired, Ed carried on the traditions that together they had set forth. Ed and Mike were a powerful tag team as superintendents of Bedford County Schools.”
Ed said, “Joan taught in three different school systems: Marshall County, Giles County, and Bedford County. She was selected as Teacher of the Year for the school system in all three counties.”
While serving as chairman of the State Teachers’ Study Council, Joan worked for a year with Lamar Alexander and his Career Ladder System in the mid-1980s and traveled the country that year, speaking to other states about the innovations in education in Tennessee.
Retirement made room for travel in the lives of both Ed and Joan. A map of the world on their wall pinpoints the destinations that have been the settings for this chapter of their lives. The stories and books Joan taught for so many years in her English classroom come to life as they visit places worldwide.
“I love books. I was a senior English teacher, so I had taught British literature, and one of the first places we went after retirement was England. We visited Canterbury, the setting for Chaucer’s works, and Exeter, where King Arthur was supposedly buried, and the Lake District, where Wordsworth lived at Grassmere and wrote so many of his poems and where Beatrice Potter wrote her children’s books, which included “The Tales of Peter Rabbit.” Traveling there was just wonderful because I had taught this literature for 35 years,” said Joan.
They’ve explored the world through different avenues.
“We love to travel, and we’ve traveled basically all over the world. We’ve taken cruises and tours, and we’ve gone on our own,” said Joan. “The only areas we have not traveled are in the Far East — Japan, China, Vietnam, etc.”
Ed expresses that he and Joan are very blessed still to have each other and such a loving family. “We have been fortunate to have had the opportunities we have had in our 80 years of life.”
While they’ve covered a lot of ground, there’s still more to be experienced. Although Ed has had several health situations that have slowed them down some, they are still traveling and enjoying the places they visit. They recently returned from trips to the Bahamas and the Northwest region of the United States, and they frequently spend time on the Alabama coast.
Their lives are a travel memoir — a 40-year adventure fueled by their love for each other, their family, education, and exploration. The blank pages are yet to be filled with more experienced and
treasured moments. With a destination of both home and the world, their hearts are united, stitched together with the love of family.
That’s the journey of a lifetime. GN