Had it not being for Ruel Grey’s assistance and encouragement, Ajamu Clarke is certain he would not have become an expert in his field.
“Even though I was pretty good in Math, there were some fundamental holes in my knowledge base,” Clarke, a skilled computer support specialist, admitted. “Mr. Grey played a leading role in helping me overcome my challenges and he also taught me more about practical applications of absolute value. Without him, I would not be where I am today.”
A Math tutor for hundreds of young people and special needs children in the Greater Toronto Area in the last four decades, Grey died last week in hospital after a prolonged illness. He was 83.
Clarke’s father, pharmacy owner Winston Clarke, said Grey did not get the recognition he deserved for the countless youths he served and other selfless volunteer activities since migrating to Canada from Jamaica in 1969.
“Ruel was the mobile tutor who was always there for our young people,” he said. “In our community, we tend to abandon our elders who have given so much of their lives without receiving much, if anything, in return. I would put Ruel in the same category with the late Dudley Laws and Charles Roach who served us well. The difference between them and Ruel is that he did not have their charisma and he did his work without much fanfare.”
Clarke and Grey organized the first Drug Awareness Day (DAD) in the city at Brookview Middle School shortly after they met for the first time in 1992. They also worked together on several projects and as board members for various organizations, including the Marcus Garvey Centre for Leadership & Education.
“I will always remember Ruel as being reliable, generous, dependable and someone who was dedicated to the welfare of humanity,” Clarke said.
The eldest of three children, Grey taught at the primary school level before enrolling in the 179-year-old Mico University Teacher’s College in his native Jamaica.
“As a young boy, he had a passion for teaching and working with youths, so I was not surprised when he entered Teachers’ College,” said his cousin Oscar Headley who grew with Grey in Bethel Town in rural Jamaica.
On arrival in Canada, Grey became an active member of several organizations, including the Mico Alumni Association Toronto chapter.
“He was always reliable and willing to make a contribution on a volunteer basis,” said former Mico Old Students Association president Hugh Morris who resides in Jamaica. “He served the institution and the community well.”
While teaching was his first love, Grey developed a passion for entrepreneurship and business and – with his wife Carmen – launched one of the first West Indian grocery stores in the city – Del’s West Indian Food Store located near Bathurst St. subway station. The couple also operated food and grocery establishments close to Marlee Ave. and Lawrence Ave. W. and Glendower Circuit, retirement homes in Barrie and Orillia, pursued Amway which is a direct-selling giant that markets everything from cosmetics to health supplements to cleaning products, and dabbled in insurance.
“In addition to doing all of this, our father was continuously working with community organizations to improve the lives of immigrant families throughout the GTA,” said his son, Anthony. “He was someone who would give, and indeed he did, every food morsel on his plate to anyone in need.”
Grey was a longstanding member and president of the Caribbean Excelsior Fraternal Association (CEFA) founded by Vincent Samuels.
“Ruel was a very nice person who put his heart and soul into the organization,” said Samuels. “He was punctual and disciplined and he brought a lot of leadership to the organization.”
Julie Spence, who started Spelling Bee of Canada 27 years ago while she was a CEFA youth worker, concurred.
“He cared about the community and the upliftment of our young people,” she said.
The Jamaica Canadian Association (JCA) was close to Grey’s heart and he was a member of several committees, including education.
“He was always keen to contribute,” recalled retired George Brown College professor Dr. Erma Collins who served with Grey on the education committee. “If you were a parent with a child who needed extra tutoring, Ruel was always there ready and willing to step in.”
Former JCA president Valarie Steele said Grey was extremely passionate about volunteering and education.
“He’s one of our stalwarts and unsung heroes,” she added. “He did a lot without getting much recognition.”
Grey was also a founding member of the John Brooks Community Foundation & Scholarship Fund and the Applause Institute of Canada and a member of the Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens Organization which converted a small training facility Toronto Community Housing built in a converted maintenance building and named it the Ruel Grey Multi-Tech Centre.
In addition to his wife and eldest son Anthony, Grey is survived by children Fanc and Keif and six grandkids.
A celebration of his life takes place on Saturday, January 18 at Revivaltime Tabernacle Worldwide Ministries Durham, 550 Kingston Rd. in Pickering, starting at 11 a.m.