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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Before You Go: ‘All About John Gray’

CRL columnist John Gray gets personal...with himself.

So this month, let’s pretend you and I are standing at the bus stop and you decide to kill some time by asking a question or two that you’ve always wondered about me. I can’t promise my answers will dazzle or enlighten, but they will be honest.

Q: John, you’ve mentioned you are from Troy, but what part of the Collar City and what kind of crowd did you run with back in the day?
A: I’m from South Troy, a neighborhood that today you’d probably be afraid to walk in alone at night. Back in the 1970s it was a blue collar melting pot of Italian, Irish, Polish and everything in between. While I went to LaSalle, most of my friends went to Troy High School and were generally good kids who fractured a law or two, although only one eventually went to jail. It was a great childhood full of sandlot baseball, building forts and sipping Boone’s Farm by a bonfire at night. Not exactly Norman Rockwell, but fun just the same.

Q: Some of the stories you report are horrible. How do you keep emotionally detached and not let it get to you?
A: Sometimes you can’t.  I’m a father of three, so any story where children get hurt bothers me and I’m told you can often see it on my face. I’m also a sap when it comes to stories where someone in uniform returns home and sees their loved ones at the airport. Nothing makes me tear up more than a father hugging a child he’s been away from for a year I honestly believe that the day that nothing effects you is the day you should stop reading the news.

Q: Have you ever laughed uncontrollably on the air?

A: Absolutely.  You have to remember that even though I’m 49-years-old there is still a 12-year-old boy trapped inside. Just recently, I was reading a story on the 5 o’clock news which said, “Great news for anyone who needs a bone donor. Doctors can help.” Unfortunately, when I read it live on television I inadvertently smushed those two words together – bone donor – taking the first three letters from the first word and the last two letters from the second creating a word I shouldn’t have said on TV. Now put that word in the same sentence and you can see why I lost it. I avoided my boss for three days after that one.

Q: What’s the toughest story you’ve ever covered?
A: Hands down the attacks on September 11, 2001. I was sent down moments after the second plane hit the towers and stayed nearly a week at Ground Zero. Meeting people who lost a loved one and not being able to help them was heart-wrenching.

Q: What’s the most important story you ever covered?

A: You’d think it would be my last answer, but it’s not. Once on a random Sunday I answered the phone in the TV newsroom and it was a young man upset because his wife had cancer and the insurance company wouldn’t cover her treatment. We normally wouldn’t do this kind of story, but it was the slowest news day of the year so I grabbed my camera and did a story on her horrible situation. An oncology doctor from Albany happened to be watching, called me immediately and treated the woman’s cancer for free. A year later I ran into her and she thanked me for the story. I told her to thank the doctor and the man upstairs; all I did was answer the phone. I’m sure glad I did.

Q: What’s the craziest thing you ever did for a story?

A: I once jumped out of a plane.

Q: What’s the dumbest thing you ever did for a story?
A: See last answer.

Q: Why did you leave Channel 13?
A: Two reasons – opportunity and money. Fox offered both. Anything else I add here will be a bunch of baloney.

Q: Was it ever your dream to work in a big market or on the network?
A: No. Being a big fish in a smaller pond is definitely the way to go. The pay is good, you have job security, and most important, this is my home. Every time someone asks me about leaving I think of Brad Pitt’s character in “A River Runs Through It” when his brother tries to get him to move to Chicago. He smiles and says, “Oh, I’ll never leave Montana brother.” I’m with Brad.

Q: Have you met any celebrities in this job?

A: Oh sure, news types like Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, even Walter Cronkite. I’ve also met Conan O’Brien, the cast of Saturday Night Live, Rosie O’Donnell and Ryan Seacrest.  One of the nicest celebs I’ve met is Kevin Bacon. I’m friends with his brother, Michael, and I’ve gotten a chance to sit and chat with Kevin. He’s great. My one big regret involves Julia Roberts. I went to a play on Broadway a few years back and she was sitting just three rows ahead of me with Benjamin Bratt. I could have made my way down to say hello, but I chickened out. As Julia said in “Pretty Woman”, “Big mistake. Huge.”

Q: You write about M&M’s a lot John, do you have a sweet tooth?

A: Oh dear God, yes. I loves me the candy! Although if I were trapped on a desert island and could only have one treat for the rest of my life I’d have to go for the Kit Kat bar.

Q: What do you do in your leisure time?
A: Play with my kids, go to the gym and write.

Q: Favorite TV shows?
A: Deadwood, The Tudors, Rome, Californication and any movie by the Coen brothers.

Q: What’s the one thing about you that would surprise people?

A: I used to train police type dogs in something called Schutzhund. This is when you wear that big sleeve and dare them to attack you. Nothing will get your adrenaline pumping like 100-pound German Shepherd leaping at your throat. I loved it.

Q: What advice would you give a student who wants a career like yours?
A: Read and write every day. I don’t care if it’s Harry Potter and you’re writing poems about hot fudge sundaes, just write something every single day. Mechanics have wrenches and hammers, you have thoughts and words. Use them.

: What inspires your writing?
A: Things that move me. Robert Frost once said, “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” It’s my favorite quote about writing because Frost is 100 percent correct. If something moves me, good or bad, I want to write about it. When I wrote about my dog Max a few months ago and my fear of him getting old and dying someday, I was crying at my computer. I’ve always believed to do this job well you have to open up and give a piece of yourself away. If you play it safe people will just turn the page.

Q; Do you think you’ll ever write a book?

A: Yes, probably when I retire. A book requires time and to do it well you need lots of it.

And last, but certainly not least…

Q: Who is your biggest inspiration?

A: In terms of the writing, a former teacher named David Kissick who pulled me aside when I was in 9th grade and told me he thought I had talent. It meant the world to me and made me believe I could do this for a career. In regards to everything else my parents. They raised me with a gentle hand and gifted me with those three things Jesus spoke of: faith, hope and love. Now an adult, I have faith in God, hope for a better tomorrow and a love for my friends and family.

I’ll tell you one last secret about the writing. For me, the hardest part is always the last line, but today the ending comes easy. It is a simple ‘thank you’ for turning to this page and letting me in your life each month. We share something here and for that I am forever grateful.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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