Jean Gray’s wide-reaching philanthropy tops storied FBI career

Jean Gray had plans to share the story of his philanthropic partnership with the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota (CCF) when he died unexpectedly in January 2022 at age 92. We know Jean was excited to share his story and are grateful to his brother, John Gray, for helping CCF complete this article.

 

“Printing and police work.” In the late 1940s, Russell Jean Gray Jr. — known as Jean — saw those words rank high on an aptitude test while pursuing a degree in political science at what was then the College of St. Thomas. As the son of one of the co-founders of Gray Company (now Graco, Inc.), Jean was expected to enter the family business of manufacturing lubrication equipment, not close criminal cases.

But Jean knew his unique gifts would lead him on a different path.

After serving two years in the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, he returned home to work with his father. Unsatisfied, he secretly applied and was hired at the FBI. Jean reported to Washington, D.C., in January 1955 to begin a storied 30-year career.

He army crawled through cornfields, met suspects in hotel basements, and investigated international crimes during his 13 transfers, which included stints in Manila, Mexico City, and more. The well-respected agent had a gift for listening and seeking input before making critical decisions, some of which had a lasting impact on major world events — including the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Embracing the Role of Philanthropist

Jean’s Catholic upbringing and deeply instilled credo of giving back led him to make the shift at retirement from FBI agent to philanthropist. Minnesota Friends of the Orphans, the University of St. Thomas, and the Seminaries of Saint Paul are just a few of the organizations that benefited from his gifts of time, talent, and treasure.

“We learned early on to share what we had, and Jean did that,” says his brother, John Gray, 87, who lived next door to Jean on the family’s original property in Excelsior.

At his parish, St. John the Baptist in Excelsior, Jean continuously stepped up in small and large ways to further the mission of the Church. He was the oldest altar boy the parish ever had, John quips, and parish leadership knew that if they ever needed something, Jean would be there.

“Most people would go to the pancake breakfast and chip in a donation of $3 — Jean would go and put in $5,000,” John says. “He showed belief in his faith in the way he gave.”

Jean took a new approach to his expansive philanthropic efforts in 2021. A financial advisor referred Jean to CCF, and Jean soon established a donor advised fund.

Jean was impressed by the efficiency of the fund, recalls CCF Vice President of Development and Donor Engagement Chris Nelson. He regularly donated gifts of stock to multiple nonprofit organizations, and the donor advised fund made it easier with a single tax-advantaged transaction.

Gifts That Keep on Giving

Photo courtesy of NPH USA

Jean’s charitable legacy will live on in the organizations he held most dear. One of his favorite charities was Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH), which he first learned about in 1980 while working with the FBI at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

Never married, Jean expanded his family to include the children of NPH who were working to overcome poverty and become productive, caring leaders in their communities. His love for them became an extension of God’s love and his faith. He gladly accepted an invitation from NPH’s founder to lead the Father Wasson Legacy Endowment to help secure a solid financial future for the organization.

Back home in Excelsior, Jean split his time between local and international outreach projects, served on numerous boards, and was simply the fun-loving Uncle Jean. He would tell tales of his worldwide travels that enthralled even the youngest of his nieces and nephews, using his dry sense of humor to keep everyone on their toes, John says.

Remembered as a sharp and personable gentleman, Jean and his life overflowed with gifts: the gift of time and service, the gift of a listening ear, the gift of a true vocation, and the financial gifts that will carry on Jean’s legacy in perpetuity.

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