SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Is there life after television?
Is there life after being a sportscaster?
Tim Gray has found one.
But it wasn’t easy.
Being a TV sportscaster had always been the first dream, one he had been chasing ever since he was a kid in South Kingstown. His father had been in and around the news business for years. His older brother Walt was a TV sportscaster. When Tim Gray was a junior in high school, he was helping out URI sports information director Jim Norman, learning the business from the ground up.
Most kids have no idea what they one day might want to do?
Tim Gray always knew.
And then in 1999, after TV jobs in Florida and the state of Washington, after chasing his dream all over the country, he came home to Channel 10.
“I had grown up watching all the people on it,” he once said. “What was any better than that?”
Five years later he had had enough.
“Sometimes you walk away from things you love because you love other things more,” he said at the time.
Still, when he finally walked away it, was a little like walking off a cliff.
“I vaguely knew what I wanted to do,” Gray says. “I always wanted to do a documentary, and I always knew I wanted to do something about World War II.”
World War II always had been a passion of his ever since he started reading about it when he was just a kid. In many ways the soldiers had been his childhood heroes, right up there with sports stars. So he made his first trip to Normandy, the beach in France which became hallowed ground in World War II. And when he saw the graves of the 99 Rhode Islanders buried there, he knew he wanted to do a film about Normandy.
But how to go about it?
He had to raise money, and he had to do it himself, had to call 100 people in hopes of having two express an interest and one have the kind of money that can turn a dream into something you can hold in the palm of your hand. He got used to hearing the word “no.”
The film got made, though. He found five Rhode Islanders who had once landed on the beach in Normandy and took them back. That became the film that’s now called “D-Day: The Price of Freedom.” It ran on 155 PBS stations around the country, and it won an Emmy.
“It became our business card,” Gray says. “It got us in the door with people.”
The next documentary was called “Navy Heroes of Normandy” and, it too, won an Emmy.
“That opened more doors,” he says.
One was the actor Dan Aykroyd, who called one day and told Gray he wanted to be a part of his projects, and will be the narrator for a future documentary on a museum in Massachusetts that has the largest collection of WWII artifacts.
Seems the former Red Sox star’s father fought in World War II.
“I sent him an e-mail two years ago and said that I had heard he had an interest in World War II and he responded,” Gray says, “and since then he’s been there every time I’ve asked him. He’s hosted events at his house. He’s become the public face of a lot of what we’re doing. I can’t say enough about him.”
Gray has four more projects on the drawing board, all centered on World War II.
“None of it is easy,” he says. “It’s always a challenge.”
There is no staff. Just he, his wife Sheila, and his father. It’s all done on a wing and a prayer. So much of it is all about fund-raising. And it’s always about taking something you love and finding a way to make it work. He’s been on the Today Show, MSNBC, Fox News, the Armed Forces Network and PBS stations around the country. He doesn’t hear “No.” On Wednesday he’s making his seventh trip to Normandy.
“People there run out of the village to say thank you,” he says. “Men cry. Kids cry. Everyone cries. It’s an amazing experience.”
He says this with emotion in his voice, from the men he’s brought back to Normandy, back to the hallowed place that once defined them, to the history his documentaries preserve forever. This man who has taken the passion of his childhood and turned it into his life’s work.
“It’s 10 times harder than anything I ever did on TV,” says Tim Gray, who once walked away from a dream job only to find another one. “But it’s 10 times more rewarding.”