Gwen Wray, 73, died Wednesday, October 28, 2020 peacefully in her sleep after a brief illness. While in the Bristol Regional Medical Center IMU she earned the nickname “Wild Cat” from her nurse, Taylor. Gwen would wait until the nurses had left the room or were talking and then secretly remove her mask and IVs. She was only there for a few days; but, she won the hearts of everyone around her.
Born in Sullivan County to Reverend Bobby and Frances Olterman, she had resided in Kingsport most of her life. Gwen attended The University of Tennessee at Knoxville for two semesters before they promptly asked her to leave. She enrolled as a music major and decided college was more fun when she was piercing her friends’ ears and partying. Her fondest memories were spending time at UT football games and weekends in Knoxville with her best friends, Tom and Deborah Johnson.
Gwen met the love of her life, Bill Wray, while she was working as a legal secretary in Knoxville, Tennessee. On their first date, he told her she wore too much blue eyeshadow and she responded, “If you don’t like it, you can date someone else.” He married her a short time later and they spent the following 44 years together. She loved him fiercely and always stood by his side.
Gwen was a Kingsport icon and notorious for offering her cigarettes to anyone who might be having a bad day. She shared her Merit Ultra Lights and a listening ear with the broken hearts from the Allandale Barn Dances, swimmers who didn’t make the state qualifying times and to those who needed to sober up after a DB senior cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. She was always the first choice for a chaperone and led by the example, “we’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time.” On the weekends in the 90’s she was the primary getaway driver for rolling houses at 3am with her kids and their friends. She would also take kids to “cruise Broad” while listening to New Kids on the Block and was not afraid to threaten a “citizen’s arrest” to anyone who cut her off in traffic on Stone Drive. Gwen spent numerous Saturdays digging through the trash at Skate Inn to locate Melanie Demotts’ retainer or teeth.
Gwen always loved kids. She was involved in volunteer activities at schools and First Presbyterian Church. According to Sarah Good and Norie-Anne Young, “Meems” would provide doughnuts, cake, and juice boxes to Sunday school kids who would later throw up all the sugar she gave them. Gwen threw the best slumber parties, pioneered the iced brownies and potato chips for breakfast movement (IBPCFB), made the most incredible chocolate chip pancakes and was fiercely loyal to her family and friends. She made everyone feel welcome and you always knew where you stood with her. She loved hosting wedding and baby showers at the Wray Law Firm. At one particular shower, Laura Ann Boyd was expressing her overwhelming gratitude for the wedding gifts she received and Gwen told her, “honey, the overwhelming thing is that you have to cook dinner every day for the rest of your life.” She wasn’t wrong… She unofficially ran the Kingsport, Tennessee social life in the 80’s and 90’s with her sidekicks, Carolyn Hauk, Tita Massie, Sally Morrison and others who weren’t afraid to get into verbal altercations with just about anyone. Those women fondly remember her singing into a candle at a bonfire on our family farm, taking a drink of Jack Daniels and spitting it into the fire.
She was preceded in death by her older brother, Bob Olterman; her father, Reverend Bobby Olterman; and husband, Bill Wray.
This Kingsport legend leaves behind her favorite child, Will Wray and wife Tiffani of Kingsport, Tennessee; her daughter Katye Wray of Kansas City, Missouri; her mother Frances Olterman of Kingsport, Tennessee; and grandsons, Riley, Mason, Jackson, Harrison and Taylor.
A visitation will be held from 1-3:00 pm on Sunday, July 25, 2021 at Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Home, Kingsport.
In lieu of flowers, please contact Trista Ruff, Nurse Manager of IMU at Bristol Regional Medical Center to have a meal catered for the hospital staff working tirelessly to take care of our loved ones. Trista can be reached at (423) 844-2879.
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