Baylor Mourns ‘Miss Baylor,’ Prominent Alumna Lanella Spinks Gray

Unofficial host for thousands through Baylor Line Camp, Gray passed away in Houston

April 17, 2024
Lanella Spinks Gray with a pink sweater sitting in a rocking chair

Lanella Spinks Gray, courtesy of The Texas Collection, Baylor University

Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-709-5959
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WACO, Texas (April 17, 2024) – Baylor University mourns the death of beloved alumna and unofficial Independence historian Lanella Spinks Gray, B.A. ’54, of Houston on April 6. Gray, who was known as ‘Miss Baylor,’ became well known among Baylor’s students while serving as host to Baylor Line Camp groups visiting the University’s original campus site in Independence, Texas.

Lanella Spinks Gray with a pink sweater sitting in a rocking chair
Lanella Spinks Gray, courtesy of The Texas Collection, Baylor University

Gray died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Funeral services will be held Thursday, April 18, at Independence Baptist Church in Independence. In lieu of flowers, the Gray family has asked gifts in memory of Lanella Gray to be made to the Lanella Spinks Gray Baylor at Independence Endowed Fund at Baylor University.

“We are praying for the Gray family and all of those who knew and loved Lanella,” said Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. “She was generous with her time, hosting the thousands of Baylor students who learned about the University’s history and roots in Independence through Baylor Line Camp. She used her gifts of hospitality and her dedication to this institution to teach Baylor traditions to new generations of Baylor Bears, and we are grateful for her preservation efforts in safeguarding Baylor’s history at our original campus.”

Lanella Spinks Gray came to Baylor as a student in 1950, graduating four years later with her bachelor’s degree in theatre. During her time as a student, Lanella met her husband, Tom Gray, B.B.A. ’54. Her stories of Tom escorting her to her then-home of Burleson Hall – which at the time served as a residence hall – featured prominently during her presentations to incoming students at Baylor Line Camp in her hometown. Gray’s involvement in the student orientation program became so frequent, she became known as the unofficial mayor of Independence, the original home of Baylor University from 1845 to 1886, when the campus was moved to Waco.

“Little did I realize what an impact on the rest of my life Baylor would be,” Lanella shared with a group of students in a 2011 Baylor Magazine story about Baylor Line Camp. “My Baylor story is very much like many Baylor stories. I met my husband there. When I show anyone around campus, I show people some of the memorable places on campus, like the spot where a tree once stood in front of Burleson Hall. Back then, Burleson was a dormitory, and that's where I lived as a senior. It was often called Last Chance Hall. Tom would see me to the door, and then he'd go lean on that tree until I stuck my head out of my first floor window and said one last goodnight.”

Throughout her life, Lanella was a storyteller. Her unique blend of charm, presence and commitment to detail captivated her audiences, from her earliest days as a Kilgore College Rangerette, to her time as a Baylor University theatre student learning under legendary director and innovator Dr. Paul Baker.

Crowd of students in gold Baylor Line jerseys gather before the four columns in Independence, Texas
Incoming Baylor students experience the original campus at Independence, Texas, as part of Baylor Line Camp, with thousands hosted throughout the years by Lanella Spinks Gray. (Robert Rogers/Baylor University)

“Lanella shared not only her love for Baylor and Independence and those stories, but also her joy and enthusiasm for the next generation of Baylor Bears who she had such high hopes and expectations for during their time at Baylor,” said Keane Tarbell, associate director of student programs, who worked with Lanella on Baylor Line Camp. “As she told her story to thousands of new students at Baylor Line Camp, she captured their attention, drew them in and encouraged each of them on their journey. She shared that Baylor was special and she wholeheartedly hoped that they would discover that in their own sweet way, too.”

Lanella Gray grew up in Kilgore, Texas, before attending Baylor. She and Tom married after graduating, moving to Dallas where he worked as a Certified Public Accountant while she worked for Dr. Baker during the earliest years of the Dallas Theatre Center. The Grays then moved to Houston, where they raised their three sons:  James Cary Gray, Milton Schylar Gray and Walter Harold Gray. While raising her children, Lanella served in many volunteer roles, as a PTA President and directing school plays at Rummel Creek Elementary School in Houston and serving on civic and charitable organizations while supporting Act III Arabians, the family’s Arabian Horse operation.

During their 43-year marriage, the Grays continued to support Baylor, giving generously to establish scholarships at the University and supporting Baylor Student Foundation, Baylor Athletics, Baylor Libraries and other areas of the University. In the early 1990s, Lanella and Tom moved to Independence, where they became active in the community, serving within their church. Lanella also served as President of the Independence Historical Society.

After Tom’s death in 1998, Lanella continued to serve her community through volunteer roles, as a court-appointed special advocate for children in Washington County and through the Board of the Scott & White Hospital Foundation in Brenham. She also was an active member for many years at her church, First United Methodist Church in Brenham. In 2013, she was named “Woman of the Year” by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. Lanella remained in Independence until 2019, when her illness led her to move closer to family. 

Lanella dedicated significant time and resources to another passion: Baylor history. She was instrumental in developing the programming surrounding Baylor Line Camp, an extended summer orientation experience for incoming students, which hosted its inaugural sessions in 2001. Once again, she put her drama background and talent for storytelling to use, painting vivid pictures of early life at Baylor. Gray was so involved, she personally led many student groups through Baylor’s first campus in Independence, educating them on both the well- and lesser-known details of Baylor history.

"Some will be big, some small, but I promise, at Baylor you will have memories that last a lifetime," Gray was quoted as saying to a group of Line Camp students in Baylor Magazine.

In 2009, Baylor University recognized Lanella Gray with the W.R. White Meritorious Service Award. In 2011, the Baylor Board of Regents established the Lanella Spinks Gray Baylor at Independence Endowed Fund in honor of her commitment to both Baylor and Independence and to support the University’s efforts to preserve Baylor’s rich heritage. 

Lanella and Tom’s son, Cary Gray, B.B.A. ’79, B.A. ’80, J.D. ’83, would later follow in his parents’ footsteps at Baylor, serving on the Baylor Board of Regents and being honored in 2010 as Alumnus of the Year.

Lanella was preceded in death by her parents, Lillian and Milton Spinks, her sister, Nettie Lou Spinks, and her husband, Tom. She is survived by her sons, James Cary Gray and wife, Amber; Milton Schylar Gray and wife, Kerrie; and Walter Harold Gray, II and wife, Libby; her nine grandchildren, Thomas Cary Gray, William Carroll Gray, Caroline (Carly) Gray Lukefahr, Milton Schylar Gray Jr., James Taylor Gray, Alanna Gray Bass, Amberly Gray Black, Ashley Gray Kelley and Andrew William Gray; as well as 15 great-grandchildren.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.