Gray says the decision didn’t come without some soul searching, but in the end the answer came to her quietly but clearly, just like life-altering decisions have come to her throughout a long and rewarding career.
“My husband retired in April 2010 and is thoroughly enjoying retirement,” she said. “I want to be like Bill. It’s time for somebody else to have the opportunity [at AEDC]. I have a lot of interests outside of here.”
Gray said she feels a mixture of humble appreciation and pride in what she has been able to accomplish both personally and professionally while at AEDC.
In 1978, Gray came to AEDC as a secretary, with a high school diploma and seven years of work experience at a small retail business and with the state.
The road from secretary to her current position was neither straight nor easy, but she has no complaints.
Gray said her career path has been a serendipitous journey, one that has included pleasant surprises and happy accidents. However, she knows this is not the best path for others to take.
Looking back on the path she took to get to her current position, Gray expressed amazement at what she has accomplished and gratitude for all the support she has had along the way.
Gray’s most significant personal milestone occurred in 1978 when a coworker and friend she had known for 20 years, and the lady’s mother, who also worked at AEDC, introduced Peggy to a shy young man. That man is her husband, Bill Gray, who was a project engineer in the Engine Test Facility at the time and retired as AEDC’s technical director in the test directorate in 2010.
After AEDC’s first support contractor Arnold Research Organization (ARO), split into three different organizations, Peggy seized on an opportunity to take an Air Force civilian secretarial position on base.
It was at this point she acknowledged the desire to seek a different career path and Bill encouraged her to return to college.
“He suggested that I go back to school and so I started at Motlow,” she said, recalling how an interest in learning more about computers, the latest technology to impact office workers at the time, had arrived at AEDC.
She also took all of the accounting and other business-related courses and it soon became apparent that an undergraduate degree in business administration made the most sense.
“It took me about 13 years to get my bachelor’s degree because I went at night,” she said. In the near-term, her studies qualified her for an entry-level, but lower grade position as a financial management specialist at AEDC.
As her career progressed, Gray said she and her Air Force engineering colleagues saw the need for the financial management (FM) team to have some idea what the taxpayer’s dollars were funding. That way FM could effectively articulate to their counterparts at headquarters how the money would be used to fulfill the mission.
“Ed Strassler, who retired from the Air Force as an officer and then a civilian, recognized the importance of financial people understanding requirements when trying to get funding,” Gray said. “If something broke, Ed would call me and take me out to the facilities to climb around in big pipes and over stuff to actually see and understand the requirements.
“We had a need for a desiccant dryer to dry air to meet conditions in test cells. Ed explained that desiccant is what you find when you open a can of coffee. He said it is a little pack of crystals that look like giant salt crystals.”
Gray added, “I still have a little bowl of desiccant crystals Ed brought to me. Once folks – non-engineers – up the chain feel like they can understand and articulate a requirement, they typically become an advocate. If they don’t understand, they are not likely to argue for funding.”
By 2004, armed with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration, Gray became AEDC’s deputy of FM. Since then, she has worked with an annual budget of approximately $400 million.
Looking back on her career, Gray said, “Other than meeting and marrying Bill, I am most proud of developing a succession plan for FM which I believe has resulted in FM being a much stronger organization. We have provided folks with a personal development plan giving them guidance on education, training and career opportunities that will help each one attain their individual goals.”
Jeff Ross, AEDC’s acting chief of financial management analysis, has known Gray for years.
“The job Peggy does is so important because it involves leading a team of financial specialists in the safeguarding and appropriate use of limited taxpayer dollars,” he said. “She has been very successful in recruiting and training a crop of young, motivated, highly talented folks who will fill the ranks in the FM community as the older staff reach retirement age. Thanks in large part to Peggy’s hard work, AEDC will have excellent financial management and oversight for many years to come.”
Gray said retirement will allow her busy pace of life to continue.
“For me it’s retirement from the government, but it’s just graduating into a whole other phase – there are so many things I want to do and learn and play,” she said. “I’m starting a stained glass class this week; I want to learn to paint, I want to learn how to do jewelry, I think I would like to try mosaics, just whatever comes along, just something to express creativity, try and find some creativity and just have fun at it.”
Regarding retiring from AEDC, Gray said, “It’s very bittersweet. You know you spend more time with the people at work than you do your family, so they become a family to you. I’m hoping that they will come and visit me and we can do some craft stuff and just have a little bit of fun. But I’ll never forget them, ever.”