Remembering Gray Rogers
David reflects on the recent passing of friend and mentor Gray Rogers:
The Land Conservancy of New Jersey lost one of our most beloved leaders when Gray Rogers passed away last week. I first met Gray at the Nautilus Diner in the late winter of 2000. He had just retired as co-founder and president of W.P. Stewart and was heading to Florida for two months of family, golf, and relaxation. When I asked if he would consider joining our board of trustees, Gray responded by asking a long series of questions. Once he was satisfied, he left saying he would think about it and let me know when he returned to New Jersey. And then he made the mistake of letting me know when he would return.
I called Gray the day he got back and again asked him to join our board. Many years later he would tell me that he had been trying to decide between two different organizations, and he chose The Land Conservancy because we were the first to contact him. Little did we realize that Gray would completely transform this small county-based organization into a statewide land preservation powerhouse.
Gray’s enthusiasm, dedication, and gracious manner were irrepressible; it was nearly impossible for people to say no to him. He started out by putting up bluebird boxes at our office and cleaning them out each spring to prepare for new arrivals. When bears knocked down one for a quick meal, he put up two more in higher locations. When I came to the board with an idea to raise $100,000 in capital funds to renovate a building for our new office, it was Gray who suggested a capital campaign instead to raise funds to purchase more land. This ballooned into our “Preserve Now–Protect Forever” campaign which raised an astonishing $3.3 million and helped The Land Conservancy preserve 27,000 acres.
I like to say to our board and staff that every nonprofit needs a Gray Rogers—someone well respected in the community who cares deeply enough to ask his friends to join him in making a difference. Gray did that for The Land Conservancy over and over again, and we are forever grateful. Gray led numerous other campaigns, mainly to preserve land but also to do things like installing a geothermal heating and cooling system for our office. It was his challenge gift that allowed The Conservancy to double the scholarships we award to future environmental leaders in New Jersey each year.
Gray challenged each of us to follow his lead and do more to help save the New Jersey landscape he loved. He was a mentor to me and others, a good friend to all, and a great man. When Gray retired from The Land Conservancy’s board after a decade of service, it was easy to know how to thank him: we began an annual event in his honor that combines golf and conservation, two of his favorite things. It was a delight to see Gray and his family at our first five Gray Cups. After he moved to Florida, speaking to Gray became one of the highlights of my year. During this year’s Gray Cup, a beautiful red-tailed hawk flew over the course all afternoon, and I couldn’t help but think that Gray was watching out for us.
Though we are deeply saddened by his passing, Gray’s memory will live on with us through the Gray Cup, the scholarships we present each year to bright young leaders, and the many people whose lives he touched. Gray Rogers was one of New Jersey’s land conservation champions, and he left our state a far better place.