As Billy Gray’s life changed from a prosecutor to a prisoner to a preacher, his priorities were transformed from those of the world to those of God.
As an older person, Gray told The Sun he often contemplates how much times have changed. Movie previews, for instance, are violent and laced with profanity or sexually inappropriate.
Gray hopes his new book, “A Life Lived (The Good and Bad),” will illustrate a simpler time, perhaps reminiscent of days gone by, with T.V. shows from the 50s and 60s like Father Knows Best, Andy Griffith and the Ponderosa.
“But primarily its intent is to show that good is triumphant over evil,” he said. “Although we must pay the cost for our mistakes, there is a generous God willing to give us a mulligan, a second chance.”
The book was time consuming and labor intense for Gray to write. Although a short book, 60 pages, it took him two years to finish. Some funny stories, some sad, but all lead to the fact that good (God) triumphs over evil.
“I still write in long hand on a legal pad,” he said. “As I look back, these stories were written over a two-year period on three continents and two states.
“Tell Me a Story Big Poppa was written in North Carolina as I sat on the porch and visually inhaled the beauty of the great Smoky Mountains. My mind flashed back, remembering a handy man who brought much joy to the Gray family.
“Blue and Hobo were written on a cruise ship on the Mediterranean Sea. Throw in Fort Walton Beach and home in Destin and oh, don’t forget Asia. Now you have the venues.”
Some of Gray’s stories come from his courtroom experiences — some with comical twists. But others come from inside a penitentiary, told as only an “insider” can.
Prosecutor to prisoner
One of the memorable cases Gray prosecuted was James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing Dr. Martin Luther King. The case attracted international attention, and people from all over the world flocked to the courtroom.
“The defense lawyer was Percy Foreman, a big 6-foot plus man with a booming voice,” Gray said. “His stature was only exceeded by his ego. Everyone watched with baited breath for the fireworks to begin. But like the 4th of July as you light the fireworks, waiting for the extravagant, and only fizzle occurs. James Earl Ray pled guilty and there was no trial. The bloom was off that rose and life goes on.”
While in prison, Gray had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.
“Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met were in prison,” he said. “There was Jake the Butcher, Larry the Lion, mafia affiliates, governors, judges, policemen, preachers, doctors and lawyers. Lots of lawyers.”
But one person he met became the biggest influence on his life — Dr. James L. Monroe, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Fort Walton Beach.
“He tutored me while in prison and mentored me in the free world,” Gray said. “He baptized my daughter, married my son and buried my wife. He stands head and shoulders above the rest.”
From that time, Gray preached the Gospel, first in prison and then around the world with Billy Gray Ministries, founded in 1982 when he was released from federal prison.
Gray never lost sight of God, but it wasn’t until Monroe convinced him to travel as a missionary that he found his true calling. The organization works mainly in the countryside, going to places mission groups do not go. They have helped dig and pay for fresh water wells and supported children orphaned by natural disasters.
And he is always preaching the gospel to any and all who will listen.
Gray said his ministry almost never happened. When he was released from prison, he received invitations to speak in mega churches and was invited to Washington D.C. where he was invited to Blair House and dined after hours in the Senate chambers.
“But a metamorphosis took place and the shining star tumbled downward,” he said. “But the call on my life was never in question. Indefatigable, I soldiered on for 18 years without a single contribution other than for services rendered.
“Suddenly the storm subsided as quickly as it came. As the rainbow appears after the rain, a plethora of blessings came to fruition.”
Gray’s faith-based ministry, based on Matthew 25:16, is all about encouraging others.
Gray does not consider himself to be a preacher. He had no seminary training and is not ordained, by choice.
“In May 1978, I knelt at the altar in Texarkana, Texas, and made a vow,” Gray said. “If God would protect me through incarceration, anytime given an opportunity to talk about his gospel, I would. You see, being a former prosecutor, there were innuendos that I could be in harm’s way. While in prison I was given ample opportunities to preach and that is where I developed my style of preaching.”
When asked to preach one Easter at The Gathering in Sandestin, Gray was reluctant.
“We had a wonderful Easter service with 300 in attendance,” Gray said. “At the conclusion of the service, much to my surprise, Jay Stone, one of the founders, announced that I had accepted their offer to be pastor. God truly works in mysterious ways.”
“My style of preaching is best described as a story teller,” Gray said. “One of the greatest compliments I have ever had was from a local attorney who said, ‘If Billy is talking about the Ark, you better take some Dramamine or you’ll get sea sick.’”
Gray’s first book, “From Prosecutor to Prison to Preacher,” and his new book, “A Life Lived,” can be purchased at amazon.com. The latest book is available on Kindle.