Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thornesberry Anderson Gray (1871-1950)

                                                     From the Hayward Daily Review, March 17, 1936.

   Following on the heels of Thursday's write-up on Cleburne County, Arkansas resident Geanie Philander Houston, we continue our stay in  Arkansas and journey from Cleburne County to its neighboring county of Independence to spotlight one Thornesberry Anderson Gray, a "Democrat for Forty Years" who served two terms in the Arkansas State House of Representatives. Little exists online in regards to Gray's life and career in Arkansas politics, and the following profile has been piecemealed together from any and all sources that give mention to him.
   One of fourteen children born to former Arkansas state representative Elisha Columbus Gray (1830-1909) and the former Anne Meacham (1836-1906), Thornesberry A. Gray was born on March 25, 1871. Details on his early life and education are sorely lacking, as are the origins of his unusual first name, which has also proven to have a number of spelling variations floating around, "Thornberry", "Thorneberry" and "Thornsberry" being among them. However, Gray's tombstone at the Oak Lawn Cemetery in Batesville, Arkansas records the spelling as "Thornesberry", and it is that spelling that is listed here. Gray married Effie Adeline Hargrove (1882-1962) and later had three children,  Enid Gladys Gray Larson (1902-1970), Vera Jean Gray (1905-1992) and Troy Ancel Gray (1915-2006.)
    An attorney based in Batesville, Arkansas for many decades, Thornesberry Gray first sought public office in the early 1920s, being elected as the judge of Independence County from 1921-1923. In November 1924 Gray was elected as one of Independence County's representatives to the Arkansas General Assembly, serving in the legislative session of 1925-27. Gray was later returned to the house of representatives for a second term in November 1928, serving in the house session of 1929-31.
  Earlier, during his first House term, Thornesberry Gray etched his name into the history books when, "while exploring the Arkansas constitution", he discovered that Arkansas had legally adopted a state constitutional amendment that would provide for the popular election for a Lieutenant Governor. This amendment had been created in 1914 but was not filled until over a decade later, and in 1926 Gray, noting this previously neglected amendment, filed papers announcing his candidacy to fill the office. In that year's contest, Gray was unsuccessful, losing to one Harvey Parnell, the same man who would later beat him for the Democratic nomination for Governor four years later!
   In 1930 Gray announced that he would be seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor of Arkansas in that year's primary, and his platform (published in in the June 5, 1930 Gentry Journal Advance) noted that: 
"Taking care of Arkansas' business is paramount to all other business in the state and that it is too great for one man, Therefore it would be my pleasure to call at least twelve good honest men with business ability to help solve some of Arkansas' knotty problems and it may be that we can restore industrial faith in our state, and, too, we may be able to make proper recommendations to the legislature."
   In the end, however, Gray's gubernatorial dreams came to naught, as incumbent Governor Harvey Parnell (1880-1936) won the primary. In February of 1936 Gray once again campaigned for high office, announcing that he would be running in that year's U.S. Senate primary. Noting that he would "not become a tool of any faction", Gray was one of a few candidates vying to replace 23-year incumbent senator Joseph Taylor Robinson (1872-1936.) Gray's candidacy ended up gaining little traction, and he later withdrew from the race in May 1936. Following Gray's withdrawal, Joseph Robinson achieved victory, winning the senate primary, and later, the November election with over 80% of the vote.

From the February 11, 1936 Fayetteville Democrat.

  Following his unsuccessful campaigns, Thornesberry Grey returned to practicing law in Batesville, continuing to operate his law practice until a few months prior to his death, which occurred in Batesville on June 15, 1950 at age 79. He was later interred at the Oaklawn Cemetery in that city and was survived by his wife Effie and his three children. Gray later received posthumous distinction by having an addition to Oaklawn Cemetery named in his honor, with the Thornesberry Gray section of the cemetery being purchased and created in August of 1993.

                                                                From the Blytheville Courier, June 16, 1950.

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