F&M Stories

J. Richard Gray: Doctor of Humane Letters

Presented at the 2016 Commencement of Franklin & Marshall College:

In 2012, the Gallup organization joined the national health advocacy group Healthways to issue their fifth annual Wellbeing Index measuring Americans' perceptions of the quality of their lives and daily experiences. At the top of the list of communities where residents said they felt good about life was Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Not long after, Movoto Real Estate, a company that uses elaborate algorithms to rate the best places in the country to live, published its list of "The Most Exciting Small Cities in America." Lancaster was ranked fourth.

Though many factors contributed to both recognitions, there is little doubt that among the major reasons for Lancaster's renaissance—from a community once known primarily for its lush surrounding farmland and association with the Amish to one appreciated today for a thriving downtown, vibrant art community, and dynamic nightlife—is three-term Mayor Rick Gray.

During his decade in office, working with local business leaders and civic groups, Mayor Gray, who inherited a $7 million budget deficit when taking office, has stabilized the city's finances while also recentering Lancaster's economy on the growth areas of health care, education, livability, tourism, technology, and culture. Where once defunct factories, disused warehouses and empty storefronts crept ever deeper into the throes of neglect, new art galleries, shops, hotels, restaurants, apartments and condominiums now blossom.

Under Mayor Gray's leadership, Lancaster has become a more inviting, open and interesting place to live—a model for a "new urbanism" that values historic preservation and sustainability, gives priority to green spaces and "walkability," and encourages intellectual engagement through support of live music festivals and public art installations. Together with Franklin & Marshall and other sponsoring partners, Mayor Gray helped expand the wildly popular First Fridays, when dozens of galleries, restaurants, theaters, museums and other attractions stay open late and feature special programs, offers or discounts that lure thousands of people from throughout the region to the downtown core on the first Friday of each month.

While he has served in office since 2005, Mayor Gray and his wife, Gail, have been Lancaster residents since the early 1970s, and continue to live in the same row house they occupied when as a young American University graduate and Dickinson School of Law-trained attorney, he was named director of Legal Services for Central Pennsylvania, providing civil legal aid to low-income clients. And though he would later succeed in private practice as well as elected office, he has never given up on his early idealism or desire to improve people's lives.

Among his latest initiatives is a more than half-million dollar investment by the city to provide greater high-speed wireless Internet access throughout Lancaster—not only for more effective city services, but also to reach households otherwise unable to afford commercial cable.

J. Richard Gray, for your commitment and public service to the people of Lancaster and Central Pennsylvania,
for your vision of what a 21st-century American city should be, and for your untiring efforts to make our community a model for the nation, Franklin & Marshall College bestows upon you the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.

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