Update: Funeral Services with Military Honors will be held Saturday, Nov. 5 at 2 pm at Nazareth First Baptist Church. The family will receive friends one hour prior to services at the church.

Memorial contributions may be made here.

Original post: Oct. 26: Earl Gray, a disabled veteran and unofficial keeper of the Before I Die wall on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville, has died. A poster hung on the chalkboard wall gives the date of Gray’s death as Tuesday, Oct. 25. He was 64.

Gray, also known as “Happy,” who had the lower half of his right leg amputated after a spider bite, was a fixture on Biltmore Avenue and in downtown for about 10 years. Sitting in his wheelchair, Gray often displayed a small American flag in a can and asked passersby, “Could you help a veteran?”

Gray was a veteran of the Vietnam war who worked as a landscaper and caterer before losing part of his right leg below the knee about 8 years ago. Gray also had trouble receiving disability benefits until local resident Joshua Martin reached out to help, according to a 2013 Mountain Xpress story.

Gray sat along Biltmore Avenue near Doc Chey’s restaurant, and when the Before I Die wall was erected, he became an unofficial keeper of the wall that encouraged people to write their dreams in chalk.

A crowdfunding campaign seeking to raise $2,000 for Gray’s burial has been established here.

Happy is survived by his sons, Earl Watts and Anthony Gray as well as many more loving family members and friends, according to his obituary.

Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that Gray had been a fixture in downtown Asheville for about the past 10 years, not three years as originally stated.

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6 Comments

  1. Ive been informed that the VA will bury vets for free in a national cemetery and maintain the graves indefinitely. I cant find a way to ontact his family about this, and perhaps they already know but if anyone is in touch with them, could you pass that info along?

  2. Gretchen Agner says:

    He was there for a lot longer than three years.
    I’m from Asheville but moved to Charlotte over 5 years ago.
    I first met him in 2008.
    Wonderful Soul.

  3. Lisa V. Gillespie says:

    Hey Jason,
    Earl Grey was actually disabled and a fixture on Biltmore when I was at UNCA working at the Blue Banner in 2005. I did a profile of him: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/2014236917/2005-11-17/ed-1/seq-10/ocr/

  4. Lisa Gillespie says:

    Hey Jason,
    Earl Grey was actually disabled and a fixture on Biltmore when I was at UNCA working at the Blue Banner in 2005. I did a profile of him: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/2014236917/2005-11-17/ed-1/seq-10/ocr/

  5. Hannah Rechtschaffen says:

    Three years?! Earl had been there, saying hi, stopping you to talk, for at least six or seven years. He was a sweet human being <3

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