Lois Spier Gray, 1923 - 2018

The Worker Institute mourns the passing of a champion of workers' rights.
Pictures of Lois Gray
Thursday, September 20, 2018

On September 20, 2018, Lois Spier Gray passed away. Lois was born on Oct. 17, 1923 in St. Louis, Missouri. Lois was the Jean McKelvey-Alice Grant Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Extension of the ILR School.

 In 1946, Lois founded the school’s first off-campus extension office in Buffalo, and subsequently moving to direct the New York City office before being appointed Associate Dean and Director of Extension. Lois completed graduate degrees (M.A. at University of Buffalo and Ph.D. in Economics from Columbia University) while working fulltime for Cornell ILR. 

Many innovative programs were established under her leadership including Labor and Urban Affairs, Programs for Employment and Workplace Systems, the Institute for Women and Work, Summer Schools for Women Union Activists, Hispanic Labor Leadership and Labor Studies for College Credit. 

Lois received numerous awards over her career, including Lifetime Achievement from the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) and the United Association for Labor Education (UALE). In 2006, she received an award from the Working Theatre for “Bridging the Gap between Arts, Labor and Community.”  

She was an Associate of the Worker Institute where she engaged in research on the arts and entertainment industry.  She served as a trusted and valued member of staff at the Worker Institute until she passed.  The Worker Institute is dedicated to continuing Lois' legacy and grand vision for workers' rights.

Tribute from Staff and Faculty at Cornell ILR:

“Lois has been a constant presence in particular in Extension/Outreach and The Worker Institute, where she persisted in coming to work in the 34th street office until just a few weeks ago.  Her work on Arts and Entertainment workers, on women in union leadership roles, and on other topics concerning worker rights has been recognized throughout the world.” – Ileen DeVault, Academic Director, The Worker Institute

“Lois loved ILR and was dedicated to its mission of workplace fairness and equality. She was an advocate for worker and women's rights who never lost her zeal for making the world a better place. Lois believed strongly in the outreach mission of the School.   She was my friend, my mentor and my role model. She was also one of the smartest people I have ever met. She willing shared her wisdom and her knowledge. She will be missed by many.  May her memory be a blessing as we carry on her life's work.” – Esta R. Bigler, Esq. Director, Labor and Employment Law Programs

"Lois was a brave and brilliant trailblazer. She was the co-founding mother and soul of the UALE Northeast Regional Summer School for Women in Unions and Worker Organizations We owe her a great debt of gratitude for her inspiration, wise mentoring and for being a model that inspired us all to keep moving forward for women workers everywhere." - KC Wagner, The Worker Institute 

“From a young woman from Oklahoma in Washington, D.C. working on the wartime Japanese code to a Manhattan theater connoisseur and for decades ILR's labor voice of conscience--Lois did it her way.” – Samuel Bacharach  McKelvey-Grant Professor Director, Smithers Institute

“Lois was the best of ILR. I was thinking today about all of the students Lois mentored as part of the Van Arsdale Scholarship. I know several who have worked with her over the last few years, including this year’s recipient.  They have all found her mentorship to be invaluable with both their education and careers. It is a tribute to how important Lois was in their lives that many of them kept in touch with Lois for years after they left ILR. “ -  Kate Bronfenbrenner, Director of Labor Education Research Labor Relations, Law, and History

"Lois was a mentor to many, including me, in the ILR School, the wider professions of which she was a part, and throughout New York.  She was one of the earliest and fiercest advocates for women in the factories, the stores, and the professional world. “ -  Ronald Seeberm Professor Associate Director, Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution 

You can leave a tribute to Lois here.

You can read some examples of her groundbreaking work here: