Mary Jane Gray

Gray—Mary Jane Gray, 97, on January 23, 2022, in Corvallis, Ore., where she had been living for more than 30 years. Mary Jane was born on June 13, 1924, to Gladys McClung Gray and Claude M. Gray in Columbus, Ohio. She grew up in St. Louis, Mo. Her father, whom she adored, was in charge of building and operating the city transit system.

In 1941, Mary Jane enrolled at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa., where she embraced Quaker values. After she graduated in 1945, Mary Jane attended Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, graduating in 1949. She went to Columbia University in New York City for her internship, residency, and graduate research in obstetrics and gynecology. Mary Jane was an instructor in medicine at Columbia from 1956 to 1960.

Mary Jane moved to Burlington, Vt., in 1960 to practice obstetrics and gynecology, and teach at the University of Vermont Medical School. She was one of the very few women practicing in her field at that time, and this in part led her in 1965 to become one of the founders of Planned Parenthood of Vermont. Mary Jane taught and practiced in Burlington until 1977.

In 1963, Mary Jane married Thomas Bassett and took on, loved, and raised four teenage stepchildren, John, Elizabeth, Miriam, and Margot, whose mother had died suddenly four years before. For many years she balanced the care and tending of the family, house, and her gardens with a full obstetrical practice, a full-time teaching load, and research. She joined Burlington Meeting, which met in the barn behind their house, and often hosted guests for lunch after meeting on Sundays.

In 1979, the marriage ended. Mary Jane met her friend and companion, Jayne Anne Ackerman, a family physician, while in Vermont. The two of them would live together for the remainder of Mary Jane’s life.

Mary Jane and Jayne moved to Chapel Hill, N.C., where Mary Jane was recruited to become head of Women’s Health Services at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She was a well-respected professor doing extensive perinatal research, and was beloved for her prominent advocacy of women’s rights to choice in reproduction.

When Mary Jane retired in 1990, she and Jayne moved to Corvallis, Ore. Mary Jane worked as a volunteer physician for many years in Oregon, was medical director for Linn County Planned Parenthood, and did clinical volunteer work from 1992 to 1998.

Mary Jane joined Corvallis Meeting, where she was a serious voice for peace, justice, and the environment. Visiting the sick and infirm was a part of her weekly routine. She was an active participant in monthly meetings for business and social occasions. As she aged into her 90s, her soft-spoken counsel was less frequent but treasured as it was always cheerful, wise, and kind.

Mary Jane began to paint in her retirement, almost entirely in watercolors, and almost always landscapes of the Oregon coast, mountains, and woodlands that she loved.

Mary Jane was predeceased by two stepchildren, Margo Bassett and John Bassett; and a sister, Elizabeth Danforth. She is survived by two stepchildren, Lisa Bassett and Marty French, and their families; as well as her nieces and nephews, in particular David Danforth and his wife, Tina, who were such a large part of her life.

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