When 17-year-old John Gray walked across the sparse Nevada Southern University campus in 1968, he didn’t think he could attend. He wanted to – “but I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t have a job yet,” he said.
Gray had just moved to Las Vegas after growing up in the Marshall Islands, where his dad served in the military. He left his family and small island life to follow his high school sweetheart to Las Vegas after her father got a job at the Nevada Test Site.
“I would be the first one in my family to go to college if I could,” he said.
As he walked the tiny desert campus of what would become UNLV, he checked out the classrooms, small dorms, and then stopped to ask a man where the Student Affairs office was. The man happened to be the dean of students.
“We started up a conversation, and I told him my story, and he decided he wanted to help me,” Gray said.
Before long, the man worked out a plan to provide a scholarship for Gray’s first two years of college if Gray maintained a good GPA.
Gray was elated. He got a job at the Hilton, enrolled at what would eventually become UNLV, earned good grades, and received his degree in business administration in 1973. He married his girlfriend Shelly in 1974.
From there, he worked several business jobs in Las Vegas before deciding he wanted to become a physician. UNLV didn’t have a school of medicine at the time, so they moved to Reno and he got his medical degree from UNR. The Grays had two daughters, and he enjoyed a successful career as a gastroenterologist in Reno for 34 years.
When he retired recently, he and his wife began updating their estate plans, and he thought about the dean of students he’d met at that critical point in his life.
“He made everything possible for me,” Gray said. “For a long time, I’ve wanted to reach out. I’ve always felt obligated and grateful to him.”
But after all these years, he couldn’t remember the dean’s name.
She enlisted the help of the UNLV Libraries team members Su Kim Chung and Stacey Fott, and before long, they had identified the dean of students from that era – Jack McCauslin.
McCauslin had passed away, but Carter reached out to his widow to see if she would be open to hearing from Gray, who still wanted to share how important McCauslin had been in his life.
“Dear Mrs. McCauslin,” his letter begins, “I met your husband, Dr. Jack McCauslin in 1968 at Nevada Southern University. His kindness and assistance had a tremendous impact on my life …”
After explaining the story, Gray concludes, “Throughout my life I have always looked back on my chance meeting with your husband with the greatest gratitude. I was a 17-year-old kid with no money, plenty of enthusiasm and something that Dean McCauslin saw that was worth his assistance. I believe that if not for his kindness my life could have turned out quite differently.
“Please accept my sincere thanks and my gratitude for the help given me. As further thanks to Dean McCauslin and to UNLV, my wife and I are establishing a scholarship fund at UNLV with a goal of paying it forward and helping similar students in need.”
McCauslin’s widow Maureen received the letter and was pleasantly surprised to hear the story.
“[Jack] would have been honored,” she said. “I found it very touching that Dr. Gray would take the time to write the letter. A lot of people have experienced good things, but to take the time after all these years to write a letter is very nice.”
“It felt good to share McCauslin’s story,” Gray said. “He’s always inspired me, and I hope I inspire others.”
For Carter, missions like this one are why her job is rewarding. “I got to help Dr. Gray find closure, something he'd wanted to do for a long time. And I was privileged to begin the process of helping him to pay it forward.”
From there, Gray worked with UNLV’s Heather Rappaport, director of development for the student affairs department. Together, they came up with ways for Gray to give to his alma mater – ways that would help pay it forward to students who are not unlike the young man he was.
Gray established the John and Rochelle Gray Family Fund, from the John & Rochelle Family Foundation. Through their gifts, the Grays will be supporting students in a variety of ways, including helping those who, like him, faced obstacles in getting started.
“It's very meaningful to work with alumni who want to help students reach their academic goals. Dr. Gray was eager to learn about how he and his family could support educational opportunities today and for future students at UNLV,” said Rappaport.