John H. "Jack" Gray

John H. "Jack"Gray (1892 - 1988)

Jack Gray is the single individual most responsible for turning an abandoned automobile racetrack into one of the world’s greatest commercial airport facilities.

 

Gray, by his own account, was taught to fly by the famous English Aviator, Thomas Sopwith. He flew observation aircraft for Gen. Jack Pershing’s expedition into Mexico and later was put on detached service to fly for the French during World War I. After the he sought a job at the City of Atlanta’s Construction Department and he was in that position in 1929 when the city purchased the 300 acre former racetrack, Candler Field, for use as a Municipal Airport.

 

In 1929 Gray was hired as the first “supervisor” of the property. He later observed that when he arrived in the spring of 1929 all he found at the future airport were “two slate-bottomed horse-drawn dump wagons, a crew of three and two mules named Mary and Martha. The development fund contained $385.00.”

 

No matter the obstacles, Gray went to work and soon it became apparent that his appointment was one of the serendipitous events that would change history. Gray turned out to be exactly the type of person that was needed to bring the airport into being. He was tenacious in acquiring the equipment he needed to clear and surface runways. In those days moving earth was more an issue of human labor than machines, and prisoners became a ready source of manpower. It was said that if a prisoner was sent to the Cleveland Avenue Work Camp south of Atlanta he almost automatically became a member of an airport earth moving crew. Later, he also used extensively the so-called alphabet agencies created by President Roosevelt’s New Deal to supply manpower.

 

It was a result of this dogged determination and single-minded dedication that the airport began to take shape as a major national air transportation facility. While Councilman and later Mayor William B. Hartsfield provided the political leadership and support, the airport needed in its formative years, Gray had a talent for creating public notice and acceptance for the airport.

 

As the years passed, the Airport grew beyond everyone’s wildest imagination. As air transportation grew he envisioned a grand new terminal that would last generations and he managed to get this new terminal under construction and open in May of 1961. It served until 1980 when the current terminal went into service.

 

Mr. Gray retired in 1961 after having served the airport for 32 years and was succeeded by his deputy, Grady Ridgeway. Jack Gray came to the Atlanta’s airport when it was little more than a grown-over patch of property with little to recommend it as a landing field for the flimsy aircraft of that day. When he left it was recognized as one of the world’s great airports.

 

 

In recognition of his early efforts in making Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport one of the greatest commercial airport facilities in the world, John H. “Jack” Gray was enshrined into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on April 21, 2012.