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Just Fix It

"We,” says Jim Gray, meaning Albertans, “are not adolescents any more. We have to act like an adult, and we have to stop this whining and complaining and bitching ... "

Feb 1, 2007

by Fil Fraser

“We are now adults in this [Canadian] community and we’ve got to start living like adults, not blaming everybody else for things that are our responsibility.” Jim Gray is nothing if not direct. His steely grey eyes flash as he leans forward, two fingers rapping the table to underline the point.

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My first encounters with Gray came in the early 1980s when I hosted a morning radio show in Edmonton. He was one of the people in the Alberta business community that I knew would be in his office at 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning. When I called him then I could count on getting informed comment on the latest political or economic news. Gray is still extraordinarily accessible. If you Google him, you’ll find that his bio includes his direct line phone number. Now, when I dial the number to set up this interview, he still answers himself.

Days later, we meet in a small boardroom on the 33rd floor of the Petro-Canada Centre’s west tower in downtown Calgary. Gray is already well into a day that started with a 5:30 a.m. workout at the YMCA, a ritual he follows every day he is in town. He’s had a 7:30 a.m. breakfast in which the discussion centred on why younger people, ethnic minorities and members of the aboriginal community don’t get more involved in Calgary affairs. The breakfast group decides to invite some of those people to their next meeting.

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At 73, James Kenneth Gray is trim, physically and mentally sharp. Born “way up in the sticks” near Kirkland Lake in northern Ontario, he came to Calgary in his mid-20s, a young exploration geologist with a degree from the University of British Columbia. He cannonballed into the city’s community-affairs pool. He’s been an active “Y” member since hitting town in 1956, spearheading the development of many youth programs, later leading the drive to build a new facility.

In 1964, after watching the Calgary Stampede struggle through a period of stagnation, he suggested that what it needed was an oil show. Within two years Gray had organized the Calgary Petroleum Exposition, a success that established him as one of the city’s young comers. He formed his own oil exploration company, Canadian Hunter Exploration Ltd., in 1973 and sold it in 2001 for $3.4 billion. Along the way he has been recognized as an officer of the Order of Canada and he is a recipient of the Alberta Order of Excellence. The “Y” recognized his contributions with a National Fellowship of Honour, and the University of Calgary awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree.

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