Rea Jane “Janie” Wardlaw Gray, 61, of Dayton passed away following a brief, yet courageous battle with cancer on Saturday, Jan. 4, surrounded by loved ones while in the hospital in Webster, Texas.
Born on July 10, 1958, in Memphis, Tennessee, she was the youngest of five children born to William Reed Wardlaw and Altha Mae Paul Wardlaw. The family moved to Baytown in the early 1960s, making a brief one year move to Brownsville, when Janie was in second grade. After returning to Baytown, Janie continued her education at Lamar Elementary, Horace Mann Junior High, and Ross S. Sterling High School. Graduating as a proud Ranger in 1976, Janie was editor of the school’s yearbook, “The Governor,” her senior year, thus sparking her interest in publishing. Shortly after graduating, Janie began a long and respected newspaper career that spanned nearly four decades. She began working full-time at The Baytown Sun in the classifieds department at age 18. This initial position was a springboard that found Janie in a variety of roles — classifieds manager, circulation manager, advertising director, and publisher — that took her to the Houston Chronicle; The Paris News, in Paris, Texas; The Fort Payne Times Journal, Ft. Payne, Alabama; The Angleton Times, Angleton, Texas; The Liberty Vindicator; and The Progress, in Anahuac. Most of these publications are owned by Southern Newspapers, Inc. and were advancement moves within the company. Her career is a shining example of working your way up from the ground floor to the top by working hard and modeling tenacity, patience, and commitment, all the while loving what you do. Janie became Publisher of The Baytown Sun in February 2010 and remained in that position until her retirement in March 2018. It bears mentioning that the only notable break Janie ever took from her full-time newspaper career was to attend Lee College and Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos.
In addition to her daily professional commitments, Janie was a community volunteer, with long-time memberships in the Rotary Clubs of Baytown, Dayton, Liberty, Paris, Ft. Payne and Angleton. She was awarded and recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow, which acknowledges individuals who contribute or who have contributions made in their name of $1,000 to The Rotary Foundation. She was on the board of directors for the Baytown Chamber of Commerce for many years and served as president of the West Chambers County Chamber of Commerce. As a board member for the United Way of Greater Baytown Area and Chambers County, she led the allocations committee. In addition, she was a Bay Area Heritage Society board member and a longtime member of the Baytown Lions Club. Janie also found enjoyment in volunteering on the organizational committee for the Dayton Ole Tyme Days and as a volunteer for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, where she was a member of the Feed Store Committee. Committed to having The Baytown Sun receive a historical marker, Janie worked alongside of the Texas Historical Commission and was able to see this to fruition before her retirement. As a member of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Dayton, Janie taught CCE classes for numerous years and was very active in church activities. These are only a few of the organizations, groups and commitments that Janie made and was involved in throughout her life.
In the spring of 1990, Janie was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Working full-time while being a single parent, she endured countless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Being victorious with this battle and following her stints at the publications in Paris, Ft. Payne, and Angleton, Janie returned to the Dayton area in 1995 to be closer to family and to help care for her parents. Living in Dayton and becoming involved on The Dayton Ole Tyme Days committee proved to be very rewarding for Janie as it is here that she met long-time committee member, Bill Gray in 2002. Becoming social friends initially, Janie and Bill married on Aug. 28, 2010. Together, they have shared many wonderful years traveling, notably to Hawaii and Alaska, volunteering, and spending quality time with family and friends.
Even with all of her professional accomplishments and accolades, the one thing that Janie treasured above all was her daughter, Laura, whom she shared with former spouse, Bob Halter. From the moment Laura was born in 1987, Janie devoted all of her personal time to Laura and put her needs above all others, ensuring that today Laura is a strong, caring, and kind woman. She was one amazing mother!
Janie is preceded in death by her grandparents, Fletcher Eldridge Wardlaw and Mattie Rudell Parks and Sherman Arthur Paul and Lydia Louticia Hill; parents, William Reed Wardlaw and Altha Mae Paul Wardlaw; infant brother, David Lee Wardlaw; sister, Louticia “Tish” Filla and brother-in-law, Harvey Gene Filla.
Surviving Janie are husband, William “Bill” Gray of Dayton; daughter, Laura Suzanne Halter of Crosby; brothers, Bill Wardlaw and wife, Carol, of Dayton, and Jeff Wardlaw and wife, Tammy, of Red Oak; nephews and nieces, Robert Filla of Houston, Travis Wardlaw and wife, Laura, of Golden, Colorado, David Filla of Baytown, Zachary Wardlaw and wife, Taylor, of Seguin, and Sabrina Wardlaw of Queens, New York. Also surviving Janie are great-nephews and nieces, Mason Filla, Dylan Filla, Reed Filla, Noah Filla, Jackson Filla, Reagan Filla, Joshua Wardlaw, Elijah Wardlaw and Eden Wardlaw; step-children, Jonathan Gray and wife, Beth, of Quincy, Florida, and Jennifer Richardson and husband, Louis, of Liberty, as well as six step-grandchildren, three step-great-grandchildren and numerous other family members and countless friends.
The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, Jan.10. Celebration of Life services will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11. Both the visitation and celebration of life will be held at Pace Stancil Funeral Home, 1304 N. Cleveland Street in Dayton. Interment will immediately follow at Palms Memorial Park, N. Hwy. 146, Dayton.
Janie loved to travel, especially to tropical destinations. Among the things she loved were beaches, sunsets, elephants, wine making, reading, and making life-long memories with family and friends. A Houston Texans fan through and through, Bill and she were long-time season ticket holders and avid Houston Astros fans. She was also a dedicated Dallas Cowboys fan which she loved to remind everyone. She was a devoted wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and a treasured friend to many. She will be missed by all who knew and loved her and admired greatly for the bravery, courage, and selflessness exhibited this past year. If you can live your life as she did, then you will have a life well-lived.
Serving as pallbearers and honoring their aunt are nephews and great-nephews, Robert Filla, David Filla, Travis Wardlaw, Zachary Wardlaw, Mason Filla, Reed Filla, Dylan Filla, Noah Filla, and Jackson Filla. Honorary pallbearers are Joe Willeford, Mike Donnelly, Forrest Stoerner, and Chipper Clawson.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the following in Janie’s name: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, www.stjude.org or at 800-805-5856.
“May you always have a shell in your pocket and sand between your toes.”