Joan Gray

Obituary of Joan Ritchie Gray

Joan Ritchie Gray passed away in Bridgewater, New Jersey with her family by her side on January 10, 2024. She was 92 years old.

Born in the Bronx, NY to parents Frank and Gilda (Atlas) Ritchie, Joan grew up in Verona, NJ and graduated from Verona High School, after which she attended the University of New Hampshire, graduating with her Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Education in 1952. It was during her time at UNH that she met the love of her life, the man that would become her husband, Joe Gray. Joan and Joe moved to Pompton Plains in 1958 to raise their family. After completing 25 years of service to the Pequannock Township Board of Education, she and Joe retired in 1995 and moved to Rochester, New Hampshire where she lived until just a few months ago.

Joan was always a beloved and respected member of her community. She began her career in Pequannock teaching grades six through eight at the Pequannock Valley Middle School before moving to the History Department at Pequannock Township High School. Her love for learning and competitive spirit extended her commitment to students well beyond the classroom walls. She was the faculty advisor for the High School Yearbook publication, the director of musical theater productions in the Middle School, a co advisor to the High School Academic Decathlon team, and chaperone for the annual two-day trip to Washington, D.C. It was during Joan’s years in the classroom that she became the agent of change that we all knew her to be. She challenged her students to pay attention to the world around them. She saw the sparkle in so many and encouraged them to be themselves. She was a champion of equity and inclusion long before DEI became a staple in most high schools. Joan was truly a pioneer in education. 

While teaching the advanced students always seems to be the "brass ring" of education, Joan felt more reward from helping the kids she would always loving call her "sweathogs" -- the students that were in school because they had to be, not because they wanted to be. She solemnly promised those kids that if they met her halfway, she would get them to graduation. She did more than meet them halfway. She encouraged them, she spoke their language, she listened to them, she understood them, and most importantly she cared about them. 

For many years, Joan also found ways to give back to her community as the director of youth musicals at the First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains. In their down time, Joan and Joe loved to watch the PTHS Panthers and marching band, attended countless New York Broadway theater productions, and had their regular Sunday ritual of watching the New York Giants, Yankees, or Rangers on television. She and Joe even enjoyed watching poker games and golf tournaments when they couldn’t find a good movie on late-night television.

Joan was also civic minded and served as the local delegate representative for the NJEA teacher’s union. She was always reminding and encouraging those she knew to participate in their local and national elections and to be an informed citizen. As she grew older, her vigor and zeal for academic equity, justice, and involvement never wavered, as she fielded calls from local representatives seeking the opinions of constituents and always mailed in her absentee ballots when she was no longer able to drive to her voting place. She was also impressively tech savvy and kept in touch with family, friends, and former students through Facebook and SnapChat on her iPad. 

Joan is predeceased by her husband of 62 years, the late Joe Gray. She is survived by her daughters, Margery Schiesswohl and Kathy Fritz, and grandchildren Will and Kelly Schiesswohl, Stephanie Fritz Leenstra, and Johnny Fritz.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. To honor Joan’s memory, in lieu of flowers, please take the time to thank a teacher who influenced you, inspired you, challenged you, and supported you when you really needed it. Let them know what they meant to you. Donations can also be made in Joan’s name to the NEA Foundation to support public education, 1201 Sixteenth Street NW, Suite 416, Washington, DC 20036.

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