Going out in style

Published 10:07 pm Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Willie Gray has not had the best luck with trucks — a vehicle necessary for his work — in the recent past.

His 2003 Dodge Ram was stolen last year, in May the engine blew out in his 1994 Ford F-150 and the engine of his 1986 Chevy S-10 blew out in early June, just a week after the death of his daughter.

“It gets discouraging after one bad thing happens after another,” Gray said. “I need those trucks to do my routes.”

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But all his luck may be changing, thanks to his family.

Gray, who retired in June after 28 years with Addison Foods and is a carrier for the Suffolk News-Herald, received a 2005 Ford F-150 Lariat from his children as a retirement and birthday gift at a surprise retirement party on June 27.

“I’d been praying for a new truck, and God sent me two trucks,” said Gray, who had just bought a 1989 Bronco with which to do his paper route. “I wouldn’t have bought the Bronco, but I didn’t know anything about the Ford. Now, I have one to do my work in and another to go stylin’ around town in with my wife.”

For the past five months his children — Joseph Benton, Willie Gray III, Phillip Gray and the late Theresa Ann Harper — had been searching for a suitable vehicle for their father.

“He used to work nights and would be out delivering papers at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 5 a.m. — whenever they’d come in — and if anyone called during the day he’d help them,” said Joseph Benton, his oldest son.

To show their father their respect and appreciation, the children decided to chip in and get him a much-needed new truck.

“We’ve been showing pictures of trucks up for sale to each other for months,” Benton said. “In the end, we were driving off the sales lot and saw this truck come in and drove back in. We went back and picked it up the next day.”

On June 27, Gray went to the Suffolk National Guard Armory for what he thought was somebody else’s party. Instead, he found 175 of his co-workers, friends and family gathered to celebrate his birthday and retirement.

“I was honored,” Gray said. “I couldn’t breathe.”

Then the second surprise hit.

After speeches, songs and some dancing, the bay doors to the room opened and the truck was driven in.

“He couldn’t believe it,” Benton said. “He kept asking, ‘Is that my truck?’ over and over and then started asking ‘Can I—can I drive that home?’”

“I’ve never had a surprise party or anything in my life,” Gray said. “I’ve never had anything like any of this. I told everyone it was the worst birthday ever because everything was messed up and nothing was happening, but I didn’t know anything about this. I was so glad and so happy.”