Wray Gunn – 2020 Lifetime Achievement Honoree

Wray Gunn – 2020 Lifetime Achievement Honoree

By Hannah Van Sickle



Widespread and Ongoing Community Influence

Wray Gunn is a well-known and beloved community leader in the Berkshires. The longtime Sheffield resident’s influence was evident in high school; throughout his life, his community service and quiet activism have manifest in many spheres. He broke racial barriers at school and work. He was a longtime trustee and trustee chair of his family’s church. He co-chaired a local 1969 Human Rights Commission that lead to the founding of Construct, Inc., for which he served as a charter member and president. For decades, he held leadership roles with Sheffield’s Historical Society and Planning Board, and the local Lions Club. A longtime member of the NAACP, Wray has worked for decades to honor the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois and the region’s rich African American heritage.

Individual’s Exceptional Accomplishments

In 1969, Wray was named one of two “general chairmen” for a Berkshire Human Relations Council formed to fight against housing discrimination and poverty, and advocate for better police relations with local Black youth. The initiative led to the formation of the local housing nonprofit Construct. At one point he provided temporary office space in the Clinton Church basement, where the idea for Construct was first planted. In the 2000s, Wray worked with Rev. Esther Dozier on what became Great Barrington’s first annual celebrations of W.E.B. Du Bois. He was a key member of the Friends of the Du Bois Homesite, which worked closely with UMass to restore the historic landmark, and served as a member of the African American Heritage Trail’s founding committee of scholars and activists.

Commitment to Highest Values

Known by many for his big smile and positive outlook, Wray is a charismatic and natural leader. He jokes that some of his skills may have been honed during his years as a referee: “I’ve got the whistle — I make the final decision, so this is it.” Those who have worked closely with him also know Wray for his exemplary character, shown through honesty, patience, integrity, courage and kindness.

Exhibits Long-Term Courage and Perseverance

When Wray Gunn’s family relocated from Atlanta to the Berkshires in the early 1940s, the had to sit in a segregated car at the back of the train. In the North, where their family roots date back to the 1700s, the Gunn brothers were among the only Black students in town.Where overt segregation was less common, discrimination persisted. Undeterred, Wray broke down barriers wherever he found them. As a teen, he and his brothers played on previously all-white sports teams. As a college student at UMass Amherst, he became the first African American athlete to play basketball and the first to be named captain of a varsity team. He broke ground during a 40-year career as an analytic chemist at Pfizer, and again during his four-decades as an official of local basketball, baseball, and soccer games. After nine decades, he remains unstoppable.


“In spirit and action, Wray Gunn is simply indefatigable. At age 90, he could easily rest on his laurels and be satisfied looking back on his many firsts and achievements. Instead, his deep dedication to family, work, community service and quiet activism persist.” Eugenie Sills/Nominator


See the celebration of Wray at the Berkshire Nonprofit Awards here.