Wendell Leonard Wray, 1926 - 2003


Wendell WrayProfessor Emeritus Wendell Wray died on Sunday, August 24, 2003, in San Francisco, CA.

Wendell Wray was a native Pittsburgher, whose father, an engineering graduate of Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, was the first black engineer hired by Duquesne Light in Pittsburgh. The son of Arthur J. and Mamie Quarles Wray, Wendell grew up in Beltzhoover, and remembered that when he watched the lights come on as dusk crept across the city, his mother would tell him that his father was lighting up the city of Pittsburgh! He graduated from South Hills High School, where he mastered the Spanish language, and learned the art of making mobiles by studying the work of Alexander Calder. He then did military service in the United States Army during the second World War.

Upon his return to civilian life, he accepted a scholarship under the GI Bill to attend a small liberal arts college in faraway Maine. Sight unseen, he entered Bates College in Lewiston ME for what he described as the four happiest years of his life. He was the Poet Laureate of his class, and his poetry was celebrated at the class’s Fiftieth Reunion in 2000. During those years at Bates, Wendell also served the black community in Pittsburgh with his summers of service at Camp James Weldon Johnson, this city's Urban League camp for young black city kids. He graduated from Bates in 1950, Phi Beta Kappa in Spanish and Psychology, and returned to Pittsburgh. He knew then that he wanted to be a librarian, and entered the library science program at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and graduated with his MLS in 1952. He was the first African American male to graduate from the library school, and the first African American male hired by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, for whom he worked for seven years.

In 1959, Wendell moved to New York City and began work at the New York Public Library, a career that spanned 14 years and had him serving in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and directing the North Manhattan Library Project, an cultural outreach program that brought arts and humanities programs and collections to one of New York's hard-core inner city areas. While in New York, he was encouraged by Alex Haley, the author of Roots, to study at the newly-established Columbia University program in Oral History, where began his personal and professional fascination with this approach to historical and literary documentation.

Upon his return to Pittsburgh in 1973, he began his many years of service as a faculty member in the University of Pittsburgh's library school, the academic successor to the Carnegie Tech program from which he had graduated 21 years earlier and from whom he had received its 1973 Distinguished Alumnus Award. He taught countless students about reference and collections development, public libraries, and oral history collections. He taught about library services to the underserved, and about African-American bibliography. He was beloved by his students for his experience, his very caring approach to their professional education, and his absolute integrity and his professional demeanor.

He remained at the University of Pittsburgh in the School of Information Sciences for 15 years, with a two-year leave in 1981-83 to return to the New York Public Library as Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Upon his retirement from Pitt in 1988, he was unanimously awarded Emeritus status by his colleagues.

Wray was an inveterate traveler, especially in the Hispanic world where his fluency in Spanish was an asset. He was particularly fond of visiting Spain and Puerto Rico. He moved to the Bay area in California in 1992, but maintained close ties with colleagues in Pittsburgh. He lived on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland CA, and was active in the Episcopal parishes of the Church of the Advent of Christ the King in San Francisco, and St. Paul’s Church in Oakland. Wendell Wray is survived by a sister, Louise Wray Stewart, two nieces, Lynne and Lisa Stewart, several cousins, and close friends in Pittsburgh, New York, and the Bay area.

A requiem service will be held in San Francisco at the Episcopal Church of the Advent of Christ the King on October 4, 2003, at 1:00 p.m. A memorial service in Pittsburgh is scheduled for Friday, October 17, 2003, at 11:00 a.m., at Calvary Episcopal Church. At his request, his ashes will be distributed over the lake at Camp James Weldon Johnson where he served as a counselor in the 1940’s.

Memorial contributions may be made to a fund which is being established in the Department of Library and Information Science; please make checks payable to the University of Pittsburgh and mark them for the “Wendell Wray Memorial Fund,” and send them to Andrew D. Falk, Director of Development, School of Information Sciences, 135 N. Bellefield Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15260. Questions may be directed to Associate Professor Ellen Detlefsen, at 412-624-9444 or by email to ellen@mail.sis.pitt.edu