Former St. Louis Cardinal football player, Llano High School coach Gray dies

By Richard Zowie

The Highlander

Kenneth Don Gray, a lifelong Hill Country resident whose career included NFL football, teaching and then coaching at both the high school and professional levels, died Nov. 25 in Round Rock.

The former St. Louis Cardinal football player was 81.

Gray was born March 10, 1936 to Lewis and Estelle Gray in San Saba. In 1954, he graduated from Llano High School in 1954 and married Shirley Jean Barber in Cherokee on May 24, 1952.

At Howard Payne University, where he went from 1954-1957, Gray played football and earned All Lone Star Conference accolades and was named to the Little All-American Team.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history, Gray went on to be a sixth round draft pick in the NFL by the Green Bay Packers in 1958.

Ultimately, Gray signed with the Chicago Cardinals (predecessor to the Arizona Cardinals) that same year, playing through the 1959 season before the Cardinals relocated to St. Louis in 1960.

Gray played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1960-1969 and played one final year in 1970 with the Houston Oilers. He was chosen by his Cardinal teammates to be team captain from 1963 to 1969, was selected to play in seven Pro Bowls, and was named to the All Cardinal’s team.

While playing football in the NFL he also ran 3G Hog Farm with his father, Lewis, and brother, Charles from 1966 through 1982 as well as Ken Gray Pork Producers.

After his professional career, Gray coached the Llano High School Yellow Jackets from 1973-1975 before returning to his first love, professional football, in 1977. He became the offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos for the 1977–1978 seasons in which he coached the offensive line in Super Bowl XII against the Dallas Cowboys. His high school coaching career also included coaching the Rockdale Tigers from 1986-1988. He finished his teaching career with Burnet and Llano Independent School Districts.

Having grown up in Llano, I hade heard of Ken Gray my whole life,” said Gena Schuessler, who serves as secretary to Llano ISD Supt. Mac Edwards. “It would be difficult to find anyone from around here who does not know of his accomplishments. Although I graduated in 1972, I remember vividly the excitement of the entire community when Coach Gray led the football team deep in the playoffs. It was such an exciting time for our high school and community. When remembering Ken, it was most notable to me that he had a very kind disposition and was very approachable in spite of his large stature and many accomplishments.”

Schuessler recalled that Gray contacted her in her position at the Llano ISD Administration Office approximately 15 years ago regarding the establishment of the LHS Hall of Fame.

“He and a small group of friends were on a mission to preserve Llano High School memorabilia and recognize past successes of individuals and teams from LHS,” she said. “I will not forget Ken’s passion for his alma matter that day as we discussed the vision of the new organization. He did not speak of his own accomplishment but was most interested in preserving others who influenced him in his early years at LHS. Such a love for community and school is very rare.”

In 2016 Gray was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Abram L. Choate, assistant director of Athletics for Sports Information and Game Administration at Howard Payne University, recalled meeting Gray a few years ago while doing an article for the Howard Payne University alumni magazine. He later reconnected with Gray at his Texas Sports Hall of Fame induction.

“[Gray] felt very blessed to be given the opportunities that he had and looked back very fondly on his experiences and the people that mentored him at Howard Payne,” Choate said. “He was very humble and every time I was with him he made me feel very welcomed.”

Family

Gray was preceded in death by his father and mother, along with his brothers, Jerry Gray and Charles Michael Gray.

He is survived by Shirley, his wife of 65 years.

He is also survived by daughter Vickie Wooten of Llano, daughter Sherry Gray Fikes and husband Elliott of Kingsland, son Boyd and wife Caressa of Round Mountain, son Shane and wife Lori of Llano, nephew Randy Gray and wife Janelle of Cherokee, and nephew Mike Gray and Jewel Early of Llano. He is also survived by 11 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and 2 great great grandchildren.

Arrangements

Visitation was Nov. 28, and a funeral service was held at Waldrope-Hatfield-Hawthorne Funeral Chapel on Nov. 29, with Shane Gray and Boyd Gray officiating. Interment was at Cherokee Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Howard Payne University Jacket Century Football, PO Box 2369, Brownwood TX 76804.

Funeral arrangements made under the direction of Waldrope-Hatfield-Hawthorne Funeral Homes, Inc. Llano, Texas. E-mail condolences may be sent to whhfuneral1@verizon.net.

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