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Bill Gray Awarded Ty Harrison Service Award 2021

Three years ago after Ty Harrison passed away, the board of directors of the Utah Native Plant Society (UNPS) established the Ty Harrison Service Award to honor his memory of outstanding service to the organization. This year we are pleased to announce William R. Gray as the recipient of the Ty Harrison Service Award for 2021.

Bill Gray came to the United States in 1964 as a post-doctoral student after earning his Ph.D. in molecular biology at Cambridge University and then worked as a research fellow at Caltech for a few years. He and his wife Sylvia eventually settled in Utah when he accepted an assistant professor position in the department of biology, now the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah. During his 27 year career at the U, Bill taught both biology and chemistry, researched proteins and retired in 1997 as professor emeritus of biology. 

This is when Bill’s fascination with wildflowers and native plants really kicked into high gear, developing his amazing Cyberflora program that features over 2500 plant photos along with descriptions, keys and a glossary of terminology. Proceeds from the sale of the CD have been donated to various organizations including UNPS. 

The Utah Native Plant Society has been the beneficiary of the many talents of Bill Gray. He went to work reviving the Salt Lake Chapter which is still thriving today. He served on the board of directors. The membership list was in dire need of refurbishing and organizing and Bill was just the person to get it back in order. He has been a featured speaker for many UNPS meetings and has written a number of articles for the Sego Lily news-letter. 

A good number of UNPS members have been fortunate to participate in the countless field trips led by Bill. His trips are always educational, fascinating, and down-right fun, not only leading directly to very special native plants but encouraging the participants to discover more on their own. The professor in him has not faded over the years as he continues to be involved in citizen science. 

Ty Harrison, 1945-2017

And what a photographer, the images he has shared with the accompanying detailed information is nothing short of amazing. Which brings us to the “Life Went On” series that Bill created and shared with his rather large email list during the pandemic. What a life saver, or at least it helped us maintain our sanity during the darkest times of Covid. Again, he compiled this collection and offered it for sale at a small donation to benefit the organizations that he constantly supports. 

But he also encourages the photographer in all of us and his annual “UFO” (for “Unidentified Flowering Object”) presentation for the Salt Lake Chapter meeting is always a hit where UNPS members submit photos of plants that are challenging to identify. 

There are also special projects of interest that seem to revolve around native trees or shrubs such as the hybrid oaks around the U of U campus, some unusual Mexican cliffroses growing above the Avenues and a significant ancient juniper forest growing in the sand dunes in the west desert.

Bill Gray exemplifies what it is to be of service to the Utah Native Plant Society, an outstanding choice as recipient of the Ty Harrison Service Award 2021 for “over 20 years of fostering the goals of the Utah Native Plant Society through leadership, education and science.” Many thanks for all he has done and continues to do. 

by Cathy King
Secretary, Utah Native Plant Society

This article first appeared in Sego2021Fall, the newsletter of the Utah Native Plant Society.
Top photo: Bill Gray with his wife Sylvia Gray.