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Nancy Dyer Gray

Date of Death: May 25, 2020

Date of Birth: November 10, 1932


Nancy Dyer Gray, matriarch and creator of the Harraseeket Inn, died peacefully on May 25, 2020 at her home in Freeport, Maine with her daughter by her side.  She was born in South Portland on November 10, 1932, to Rodney William and Beatrice Allen Dyer.  Nancy grew up close to the environment, with a true passion for the out-of-doors, enjoying hiking, camping, fly fishing and canoeing.  Little did she know that when, as a child, she helped her parents operate Birch Island Lodge, a set of sporting camps on Holeb Pond near Jackman, Maine, she was developing talents and values that would one day make her name synonymous with New England hospitality, Yankee ingenuity, and ecologically sound living. Her love of nature and the lessons she learned at her parents’ island lodge in the 1940’s, cutting ice for refrigeration, heating water on the wood stove to run the gas powered washing machines, and keeping guests happy in a remote sporting camp without electricity or any access other than by float plane, train and boat, were laying the groundwork for her future success as builder and owner of the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport Maine.

They also were key elements in how she met her future husband. One day the scoot (train) stopped at Boston Ranch on Holeb Pond and off-loaded a motor boat and two young men. This aroused a good deal of curiosity on the island, so Nancy and her sister Jody went over to investigate in one of the lodge's boats. The young strangers were Paul and Harry Gray, teenage brothers moving to Holeb with their customs officer father. The only way to get their boat to Holeb was by unloading it from the train at Boston Ranch (the name of the little building on the siding at Holeb Pond) and motoring up the Moose River to “town”. Paul and Nancy exchanged one look and were smitten for life. Nancy's father hired Paul as a maintenance man and hunting and fishing guide at the lodge, and six years later, when he returned from Korea and Nancy graduated from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, the two were married. They remained deeply devoted until Paul's death forty-eight years later.

When Nancy's parents sold Birch Island Lodge in 1955, they bought the Gloucester Traveler in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Newlyweds Nancy and Paul built their home next door to the inn and raised four children there, three sons and a daughter. But the Gray family was homesick for Maine and in 1983, Paul took a job as head of the water district in Gardiner, Maine, while Nancy bought five acres in Freeport that eventually, with her vision and determination, became the site of the Harraseeket Inn. In 1984 she opened the inn as a five room bed and breakfast, which comprised two period buildings dating from 1798 and 1854. In 1989 the main inn was built.  The South Wing was added in 1997 and, with the adjacent nine extended-stay townhouses, brought the room count to ninety-three, with two eateries: the Broad Arrow Tavern, and the Maine Harvest Dining Room. Not bad for one determined little woman with a big dream.

Nancy was an amazing gal, all wool and a yard wide. She was the first woman to be invited to join the Resort Committee of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, then became their first woman chairman. She served as president of both New England Innkeepers and Maine Innkeepers Association. Her highest achievement was being designated number eight of twenty-five recipients of the Master Innkeeper of New England Award, given by New England Inns and Resorts. She tirelessly championed Maine tourism and was invited to give speeches at both the State House and Bowdoin College on numerous occasions. She was an avid conservationist and enthusiastically supported local farmers and fishermen. Keeping farmland open was paramount to her.  “No farms, no food!” was one of her favorite sayings. Hers was the first inn in Maine certified by the Green Hotel Association. She spent a lifetime supporting land preservation, water quality and animal protection issues and served on several local and statewide commissions working in the trenches. She pitched in, volunteered for everything and worked like a dog. She had the courage to make things happen and the willingness to try again.  Her seventieth birthday party here at the inn came as a complete surprise to her, but it was no surprise to us that the governor showed up and asked her to dance. She had more energy in her seventies than most forty year olds, and well into her eighties, she was still walking to work on a regular basis to keep an eye on things.

She was predeceased by her husband of 48 years, Richard “Paul” Gray, who always referred to her as “my beautiful bride”, and an infant daughter, Jennifer. She is survived by her sister Joyce Dyer of Mystic, Connecticut;  four children, Rodney Dyer Gray and his wife Jen of Sidney, Penelope Reed Gray of Fort Kent, Richard Paul Gray Jr. and his wife Diana of Windsor, and Nathaniel Andrew Gray and his partner Jessica Murray of Vassalboro; six grandchildren, four great grandchildren, and many dear and wonderful friends.  Special thanks go to Beverly Hagar, Cindy Morin, Lorraine, Pat, Laura, Stella, Pam and Tyra, whose tender loving care helped her remain at home with her two kitties during her final years.  Also, heartfelt gratitude is extended to the loyal employees of the Harraseeket Inn, past and present, whom she regarded as her extended family.  All of you filled her life with sunshine.

A celebration of her extraordinary life will be held at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport at a future date. Those wishing to remember her may contribute to The Nature Conservancy’s Maine Chapter, or take a walk in the beautiful Maine woods.  She’d like that.

PICTURE: Nancy Gail Dyer at her father’s float plane with “Danny” at Birch Island, Holeb Maine, circa 1945

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