Ralph J. Gray
by Jack Crelling
from TSOP Newsletter 17 (3), September 2000
Ralph Gray, coal petrologist, died Monday, March 16, 2009, at age 85. Ralph J. Gray received a B.S. degree in Geology in 1950 and the M.S. degree in Geology in 1951 at West Virginia University where he studied under Dr. Aurial T. Cross. He worked with Dr. James M. Schopf from 1952 to 1956 he worked as a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey at Ohio State University relating transmitted light to reflected light techniques for coal petrographic analysis. For most of his professional career from 1957 until 1983 he worked for U. S. Steel Corporation where he worked on a variety of projects including the development of a microscope system for the analysis of coal, coke and carbons; the development of a petrographic technique for the prediction of metallurgical coke quality that is still used widely; the reactivity of metallurgical coke; and the formulation of coking blends.

It is for this coke quality work that he is best known. However, he was one of the earliest workers to use reflectance analysis in studies of dispersed vitrinites and he related coke carbon forms and microstructures to coke reactivity in CO2 and developed systems for predicting pressure and volume changes from petrographic data. His studies of weathered coal resulted in a petrographic technique for its detection and quantification and in an alkali extraction and solvent transmission technique for quantifying the extent of coal oxidation which is now an ASTM standard. His expertise in the petrography of graphites, baked anodes and other industrial carbons is recognized internationally. He has also made major contributions to the development of automated coal petrography and the petrographic selection of coal for use in electric furnaces for the production of silicon and ferrosilicons. He retired from U.S. Steel's Research Laboratory in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, in 1984 as senior research engineer.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the field was his skill and enthusiasm as a teacher. He was a patient and inspired, teaching the skills of critical observation in organic petrology for fifty years. Many past and current members of TSOP have benefited from his instruction.

His professional accomplishments and enormous contributions have also been recognized by the Iron and Steel Society of the American institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers with the Joseph Becker Award, by the Coal Division of the Geological Society of America with the Gilbert H. Cady Award, and by the American Society for Testing and Materials with the R. A. Glenn Award.

He received the Thiessen Medal for the year 2000 from the International Committee for Coal and Organic Petrology for his distinguished achievements in the application of organic petrology to industrial problems. The Thiessen Medal is the highest international recognition for organic petrologists.

Ralph J. Gray was an original member of The Society for Organic Petrology and in 1996 was the fifth person to be awarded the Society's highest recognition of Honorary Member status (now the Castano Award).

An obituary from the Pittsburgh area reported that he is survived by two sons, two daughters, and nine grandchildren.

The International Journal of Coal Geology 81:2 (2010) has published a memorial to Ralph Gray by Kevin DeVanney, Daniel P. Gray, and James C. Hower.

"I am very saddened to hear of the passing of Ralph. He was on my thesis committee and set up the coal petrology lab at Auburn University. Yes, there is a coal petrology lab there and I was the first one to use it! I remember him as a quiet, well mannered and gentle person. Someone who you knew loved his science and was happy to share his love of coal with everyone who was motivated and interested. He did not suffer fools! I feel very honoured to have had his brief but motivating guidance. Please convey my condolences to his family. They should be proud that he lives in our memories and set a standard that is to strive for."
Margaret Hildick Pytte
Perth, Australia

“I only talked with Ralph once – a telephone call I made from New Zealand in late 1990s. John Ferm (also deceased) who was also in NZ at the time, hooked us up to discuss the significance of coking properties of some New Zealand coals. Even though Ralph didn’t know me, he was great – forthcoming and very knowledgeable. I could tell he had a deep understanding of coal and coke. Ralph’s passing marks a great loss to the coal community.”
Dr Tim A. Moore

"As far as I knew Dr Ralph J.Gray, he was a gifted, precise researcher and a magnificent man. He was also very modest man with a wonderful human personality. I met him long long ago in Poland when he attended an ICCP meeting. I am sure that he will be remembered by
coal petrologists!!"
Barbara Kwiecinska

"I was fortunate to know Ralph from the start of my interest in coal geology. In my college summer jobs with U.S. Steel Resource Development in the late '70s, I would occasionally be responsible for delivering recently recovered coal core samples to Ralph's lab at the U.S. Steel Research Center. He was very welcoming and showed me some of the analytical techniques performed there, including automated reflectance measurement; I must have had my first look through a coal petrographic microscope there. Of course I was pleased to connect with him at Penn State meetings and at early TSOP meetings a few years later. We should remember him for his supportive attitude as well as his scientific knowledge and accomplishments."
David Glick
State College, Pennsylvania

"I met Ralph Gray about 30 years ago when I was giving a poster presentation at an AAPG meeting. He was curious about my presentation as he had some experience seeing, what would later become a new inertinite maceral, secretinite. He had seen it in anthracitic coals of the Narragansett basin of New England. He was a nice man, very friendly, and had a great curiosity. We talked for a long time. He was the only one who came by my poster who had any idea of what I was presenting. What I was presenting was proposed in Fuel, some 15 years later. I was very much encouraged to publish it by Marlies Teichmüller. It was accepted as a new inertinite maceral by the International Committee of Coal Petrology (ICCP) in 1996. I will always remember Ralph as someone who had a gentle way about him, always trying to help share his wealth of knowledge, and always trying to encourage newcomers to the field."
Paul C. Lyons