Susan Penelope Brown Gray
Susan Penelope Brown Gray was born on April 5, 1941 in Helena, Montana to Margaret Alice Reynolds Brown and William Alfred “Al” Brown Jr. Susan died at her home in Missoula on Saturday, November 12, 2022 surrounded by her family.
She was raised in Helena with her older brother William Alfred “Bill” Brown III and her twin brother Douglas Reynolds Brown. She attended Helena High School and later attended the University of Montana where she met her husband Harold Ernest Gray (aka Long Standing Bear Chief). Together they had five children, Nicole, Ernest, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Alexander Gray. Susan and Harold raised their children to be proud of their Blackfeet, Chippewa, Cree, Scottish, Irish, and English ancestry, and most importantly, they raised them to be good people and proud Montanans (and Montana Grizzly fans).
Susan came from a long line of adventurers and pioneers. She was a fifth generation Montanan with roots in Montana Territory before it became a state. She is descended from miners, merchants, bankers, gold seekers, pioneers, lawmen, and law makers of Montana. She traces her ancestry in the US back to the 1600s.
Susan grew up in Helena riding bikes, roaming the hills in and around town, and at her family’s cabin near Rimini. She spent her young adulthood raising her children in Missoula and working alongside her husband at their business, Bear Chief and Associates, a consulting firm that provided technical assistance to many tribes, tribal programs, and schools throughout the U.S.
After her children were raised and she and Harold divorced, Susan went back to school, graduating in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Montana. She was always up for adventure and she and her son Alex moved to Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska where they lived for six years before returning to Helena, Montana in 1998 to take care of her aging father and where she worked at the Rocky Mountain Development Council Head Start program until she retired. Susan moved back to Missoula in 2017 to be close to her children and grandchildren.
Susan was preceded in death by her daughter Nicole, her parents, her brothers, her great aunt and uncle Virginia and William “Bud” Pruett, her son-in-law Bob Boyer, and her ex-husband Harold Gray. She is survived by her children Ernest J. Gray (Denise Mason), Elizabeth M. Pepion (Mike), Susan Margaret Boyer (Bob), and Alexander D.A. Gray; grandchildren, William, Samuel and Michael Gray, Andrew and Jackson Pepion, Jordan Panarella, Alice and Isidor Boyer, and Clara and Nicholas Gray; her cousin/best friend Josephine “Dodie” Doner of Yuma, AZ; her sisters-in-law Jan Brown, Lily Langtree, and Marilyn Gray, her brother-and-sister-in-law Gerald and Joanne Gray; and numerous nieces and nephews in the Brown and Gray families.
Cremation has taken place and a celebration of life will be held in Helena on May 13, 2023 at 11:00am, 3750 North Montana Avenue. Susan’s ashes will be interred at Forestvale Cemetery alongside her daughter Nicole and some will be scattered with those of her ex-husband near Glacier National Park.
Read the thoughts and memories, then feel free to add your own.
Joe Gray, son says
One of the most positive people l’ve known. You’d tell her a story of your car breaking down in the middle of no where in a blizzard and she’d remark, “Your always having such wonderful adventures,” with sincerity.
Kim Brown says
Aunt Susan – gentle, strong, funny, kind…and the best memory of anyone I’ve ever met! Sending hugs to all who love and miss her.
Emily LaSalle says
Susan and I worked side by side at Head Start. She had amazing patience and love with children. We also worked together with the Census 2000 and we shared some great stories. My condolences to her family. I think of her each time I walked by the family home in the historic district of Helena. My love to you all. ♥️
TAMMY Huffer says
My auntie sue was the most loving, beautiful person in my life. She was my second mom. I miss her everyday. She was always there for me no matter what was going on. I love you my auntie.
Arlene Vogele says
So sorry! Susan was a gracious host and good cook. I loved her Cordenbleu that she fixed for us in Browning. She was an excellent role model for her family and others.
Patty Dahl says
Our dear Susan❤️…what a marvelous, compassionate, and truly lovely woman. I had the honor and pleasure of working with Susan for many years at RMDC Head Start. I truly loved her…her stories, her positive nature, and her affirming personality…she was a treasure to so many of us. I remember she and Wanda would see who could call “rabbit, rabbit” first on the first day of each month…that lovely memory pops into my head the first day of every month!!! I will be out of State on May 13 so will miss celebrating Susan’s life with all of you; you will all be in my thoughts. Please know how blessed I feel to have had Susan in my life❤️
Wendy Studt says
Dear, dear Susan. I worked alongside Susan at RMDC Head Start. She was an absolute treasure filled with kindness and great intelligence. She opened my eyes to many things and supported my growth as a professional. My sincere condolences to her family. You all were most loved. ❤️
Karen Lane says
Such a wonderful mother and grandmother! I came to know Susan through her daughter Nicky and grandchildren Clara and Nickolas. Nicky and I worked together at MT Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. I kept thinking of Nicky and her family during the recent legislative session during the discussion about the Indian Child Welfare Act. Nicky was a trained ICWA expert witness in court cases. Susan set a strong example of caring for others and she will be missed.
Michael Pepion says
Susan, the champ of all mother-in-laws, an amazing, solid, compassionate, highly intelligent, articulate, humorous, adventurous, and loving human being! She was a sports fanatic, loved all things UM Grizzlies, and multiple other sports, a common subject of conversation. In her last few days, I asked her if she was still a UM Grizzly fan, she brightened up with a big smile and said, “All of my Life”! Susan, eventually got used to my practical joking, she seemed a little stunned at times, we always shared a good laugh! Susan was a solid rock to her family, relatives, and her many friends. She leaves us with so many “gifts” of memories we get to enjoy, and share for all of our lives! Thankyou Susan, doesn’t seem enough, but this son-in-law believes this as so!
Cindy Weber says
Susan and her son, Alex, took Taylor and me in as roommates in Utqiagvik (Barrow, Alaska), when I was a new, single mom. Her kindness, patience, and gentle teaching made a long and lasting impression on me. Later, Nicky joined us and we five had many a grand adventure. We’d bird watch and explore for small, land-hugging flowers on the tundra. Susan could name all the birds. The five of us would cram into my F-150 beat up pick up truck and go for drives, watch fireworks on Jan 1 (no fireworks on 7/4 because it was 24/7 daylight). Simple was best. Susan always made the best of everything. Too lazy to stop and dry dishes, I’d stack the dishes high in the drainer. Susan put a piece of tape on the cupboard to “set the newest record” for who could stack higher.
Sigh. So many good memories flood back. Time at the treasured family cabin. Adventures abounded. Thank you my dearest Susan. May you truly rest in God’s peace. You squeezed every ounce of goodness from the life given to you. How I miss you friend. I really thought I had one more visit with you on this old earth.
Jan Brown says
Susan’s memorial service today was wonderful. Such delightful memories of family times at the cabin on the way to Rimini. Susan and I worked together when Aunt Virginia passed away and we had cleanup chores and disposal of personal items and the little house she had lived in for many years. Sisters-in-law for many years, we became closer friends during those months. Susan always had a smile and kind words, no matter what was going on in her full and busy life. A wonderful mother, gramma, auntie, friend to all, Susan will be greatly missed and fondly remembered.
Lynn Guay says
Susan was a very dear woman and I feel blessed in having met her, worked with her and considered her my friend. Susan worked so very well with our Head Start children and families. She was always kind, compassionate and understanding. She found the good in whomever she was with. She was equally supportive of all the Head Start staff and would often comment how bright we all were on the Head Start Management Team. She would also have this bright management staff running around playing “Rabbit, Rabbit” the first day of every month. She loved being able to say it first! We all had a great time.
I set up a visit to Susan’s funeral on Monday the 15th at 11:00 am with another Head Start friend. Of course, I hung onto the Monday and we dutifully arrived a bit before 11:00 only to find out her funeral had been on Saturday!! We felt awful about missing the celebration of her life, but somehow I think Susan would have had a great laugh over the two of us showing up two days late!! This is the Susan I loved. She blessed my life with curiosity, patience love and joy! I will always have great fond memories of her.