Judith Pope-Gray grew up in a large, loving family of seven children and two parents, and was always the life of the party.
She had a magnetic personality that drew people to her, her family said.
“She was not a stranger to anyone,” said Cheryll Gurley, the oldest sister. “She had a genuine love for people. She made everyone feel special. She was encouraging, and always made people feel they could do whatever they wanted. She would say, ‘Don’t worry about that. You can do it.‘”
Mrs. Pope-Gray, 51, died Thursday, May 28, at Chestnut Hill Hospital of complications of COVID-19.
Mrs. Pope-Gray lived in Wyndmoor and worked as an office administrator in at least three Philadelphia public schools, most recently at Hill Freedman World Academy in Mount Airy.
Born in 1969, she was the fourth child in a religious and musical family of three brothers and four sisters who grew up in East Germantown with their parents, Shirley and David Pope. Their mother was a homemaker, and their father owned and operated Pope’s Printing Services in Olney.
All seven children worked in the printing shop after school. The girls worked the front desk, while the boys learned the trade.
Everyone in the Pope household either sang or played a musical instrument as part of their religious worship at home and at the Church of the Living God in North Philadelphia. Mrs. Pope-Gray was a good singer who played the tambourine, and was president of and a singer with the gospel group the Children of Israel.
Shirley Pope said her daughter loved reading and was inquisitive as a child.
“She was a bookworm,” she said. “All the other children would be outside playing, but she’d get a book. She’d read first and then go out to play.”
Her sisters – Cheryll, Cyndi, and Shelah Diane – saw another side. All three said she missed her calling as either a comedian or a lawyer. She was a fun-loving woman who could make people laugh, but she also loved to debate, said Cyndi Davis.
After graduating from Martin Luther King High School in 1987, Mrs. Pope-Gray immediately went to work as a secretary at Ada Lewis Middle School and later Simon Gratz High School.
In 1998, she married Joel Gray, whom she had known when they were children in the same neighborhood. The marriage ended in divorce.
Daniel Pope, Mrs. Pope-Gray’s son, said his mother loved working with children and had a talent for organization.
“She loved kids, and she loved education,” he said. “She gave 30 years of her life to the School District even though I asked her to retire years ago.”
Daniel Pope said his mother had plans to retire and go to college to study psychology.
“My mom went out of her way to make sure everything she did was at the maximum” level, he said.
Once, when they lived on the 3000 block of North 28th Street, she was responsible for block cleaning, and their block was named the cleanest in Philadelphia.
In addition to her parents, son, sisters, and ex-husband, Mrs. Pope-Gray is survived by daughter Dinah Diane; three brothers; and other relatives.
A private graveside service was held on Wednesday, June 3.