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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Gray, Bowman

1 May 1874–7 July 1935

Bowman Gray. Image courtesy of UNC Libraries. Bowman Gray, tobacco executive, was born in Winston, the son of James Alexander and Aurelia Bowman Gray. He attended local schools and was enrolled in The University of North Carolina for the year 1890–91. Withdrawing, he became a clerk in the Wachovia National Bank of which his father was cashier and one of the founders. He joined the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company as a salesman in 1895 and covered the state of Georgia where he was remarkably successful. After two years he was promoted to eastern sales manager and stationed in Baltimore, Md., where his two sons were born. Further promotion came in 1912, when he was made vice-president and director of the company with offices in Winston. In 1924 he became president, succeeding William Neal Reynolds, and in 1931 he became chairman of the board, the post he held at the time of his death.

Much credit has been ascribed to Gray for the rise of the Reynolds company from fourth to first place in size among tobacco manufacturing plants. Gray, a Methodist, donated the property on which Centenary Methodist Church was built in Winston-Salem. He also contributed generously to orphanages and hospitals. At the time of his death, Gray's holdings in the Reynolds company alone were valued at $12 million. A benevolent fund that he created made possible the establishment of the Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest College in Winston-Salem.

In Baltimore on 1 Oct. 1902, he married Nathalie Fontaine Lyons, daughter of Hyman Hart and Ann Elizabeth Maffit Lyons of Asheville. They were the parents of two sons, Bowman, Jr., and Gordon. Gray died of a heart attack on a cruise ship off the coast of Norway and was buried at sea off North Cape above the Arctic Circle.


Jo White Linn, The Gray Family and Allied Lines (1976).

National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 31 (1944).

North Carolina Biography, vol. 5 (1941).

Raleigh News and Observer, 8, 9 July 1935.

Nannie M. Tilley, The R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (1985).

University of North Carolina Archives (Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

We the People of North Carolina 8 (March 1951).

Winston-Salem Journal, 8, 9 July 1935.

Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel, 6 Aug. 1939.

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