Robyn Gray, 1991-2022
Robyn Emily Gray passed away in Calgary on January 29, 2022, at the age of 31 years, after a courageous year-long battle with brain cancer.
Born on January 18, 1991, in Calgary, from an early age she showed an aptitude for music, having the innate ability to pick out, on almost any instrument, a melody she had heard, regardless of how complex. She played clarinet, oboe, bass guitar and stand-up bass while in junior high and high school in music programs; she had five years of piano lessons and taught herself to play the ukulele. But the musical love which she pursued and which brought her so many years of enjoyment was playing bagpipes. She got her first practice chanter at the age of six, and immediately started playing melodies on it by ear. By the time she was eight, she was playing complex pipe tunes on her chanter, and she moved on to a full set of pipes when she was 11.
Robyn started attending bagpipe music camps long before she could play pipes. She attended the Gaelic College in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, for a number of summer sessions, learning to play fiddle, to step dance, and to weave. She also travelled with her parents to Missoula, Montana, a number of times to attend the Celtic Dragon Pipe Band’s camps, where she spent some time learning pipe band style snare drumming. After she started working on pipes, she attended the Highland Musical Arts camp in Washington State and also the Coeur d’Alene Summer School of Piping and Drumming in Idaho, both for many summers, making life-long friends and solidifying her love of all things and all people piping and pipe band related.
She joined Grade 2 Rocky Mountain of Calgary at the age of 12 and spent almost a decade performing and competing with them. She also enjoyed a very successful solo piping competition career. While still playing in the amateur grades, she travelled to Scotland and competed very successfully in the junior events, and then a few years later in the Grade 1 Competition League of Amateur Solo Pipers’ (CLASP) events in Glasgow. She also had a great deal of success competing in the local solo events at the open/professional level, winning the Alberta Society of Pipers & Drummers piobaireachd aggregate several times. She was a fabulous competitor not only in terms of her musical skill, but also on a personal and social level, well-known for enjoying the camaraderie of the Highland games as much, if not more, than playing the music.
She played in several other pipe bands once she became an adult, competing with the Grade 2 New Westminster Police Pipe Band for two seasons while she was attending university in British Columbia, and with Grade 2 Viscount Park out of Edmonton for a number of years. She played with the Hamilton Police Pipe Band (Ontario) in 2017 and 2018, competing with them at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland in 2017. She competed at the North American Pipe Band Championships numerous times, not only with the Grade 2 Hamilton Police Pipe Band but also with Rocky Mountain and Viscount Park during the course of her pipe band career.
Robyn’s father, Gordon Gray, also an accomplished piper who played with Clan McBain and Grade 1 Edmonton Caledonia, was a member of Rocky Mountain with Robyn.
Only a few months before COVID hit, she had joined Grade 2 Portland Metro and attended two weekend-long practices with them, enjoying reuniting and playing with friends she had met at the Highland Musical Arts camp. That band was planning to play in Grade 2 at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2020, but the pandemic shut down the pipe band competition season.
Robyn attended Wildwood Elementary School, Vincent Massey Junior High School, and Ernest Manning High School, all in Calgary. She excelled academically and was very active in the school music programs while in junior high and high school, earning numerous academic and music-related awards.
She graduated from high school in 2009, and that fall she moved to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to attend the University of Victoria. She enjoyed her time in that city, living for two years in on-campus housing and for two years off-campus with roommates, all of whom became her close friends, and with whom she kept in touch for more than a decade. She earned her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in the spring of 2013, and then moved to Berlin, where she worked for a year as an assistant English teacher.
Robyn’s other love was books. She was read to from the day she was born, and that love of reading stayed with her forever. She loved all things book-related, developing an interest in public and academic libraries during her time at UVic, and nurturing that love by visiting as many libraries in European countries as she was able during the year she spent in Berlin. While living in Germany, she made the decision to further her education, and was accepted into the Master of Library and Information Studies graduate degree program at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which she started in the fall of 2014.
Living in Halifax enabled her to forge stronger bonds with her many relatives in Nova Scotia – her grandparents Lloyd and Ainsley Robinson in Bridgetown, her grandmother Elizabeth Ferguson in Avondale, her uncle Gord and aunt Cathy Robinson and her three cousins Fraser, James, and David, in Truro, and numerous other relatives spanning three generations. She lived in an apartment with a Highland dancer while studying at Dalhousie, yet another friend with whom she stayed in close touch.
Robyn earned her MLIS degree from Dalhousie in 2016, and immediately started a job in her chosen field in Elk Point, Alberta. She moved to Camrose, Alberta, in late fall of 2017, again with a job in her field. While living in Camrose she became involved with the Rotary Club, and thoroughly enjoyed her association with and volunteering on projects for this organization. She attended the Daybreak club’s early morning meetings regularly, in-person while she was able, and later via Zoom. She was also an active volunteer for the Greater Edmonton Library Association’s Prison Library Project, an organization which provides library resources and programs to correctional facilities in the Edmonton area.
The last stage of Robyn’s career was as the Director of the Public Library in Camrose, a job which she started in January of 2019, but from which she was forced to take long-term disability leave in the spring of 2021 due to her devastating cancer diagnosis and its cruel manifestations.
Everyone who crossed her path loved Robyn. Expressions of love and support flowed in from around the globe once the news of her diagnosis became widely known. She is described by all who knew her as having a beautiful smile, bright eyes, and an authentic personality which lit up every gathering. She had a clarity of purpose, a genuine enthusiasm for everything she did, and a determination to achieve the goals which she set for herself. She was an all-round wonderful person who shared her happiness and joy of living with everyone she encountered. From a very early age, she had the ability to converse with people of all ages, from her great-grandfather in his nineties to children of her own age. She had an innate desire to fix situations. If someone seemed sad, she tried to inject cheer. If someone had a scrape or cut, she would apply the Band-aid. She had an incredibly close bond with both of her parents, and genuinely enjoyed spending time and going on trips and holidays with either or both of them. Social media was a wonderful tool for Robyn, and she always “liked” and made positive comments on other people’s photos and posts. She was an avid collector of small crystal figurines, books, Disney ornaments and mugs, and she loved to have photos of all of her friends and family members made into prints and displayed in collage frames throughout her home.
Robyn loved going on band trips, she loved her family, she loved camping trips to Lake Koocanusa, she loved to dance, she loved Disneyland, she loved Christmas, she loved chatting, she loved having people visit her, she loved all animals, she loved warm wool sweaters, she loved knitting and knitting clubs, she loved eating small portions of food out of cleverly-designed containers.
Robyn is survived by her parents, Gordon Gray and Ann Gray; grandmothers Elizabeth Ferguson and Ainsley Robinson; uncle and aunt Gord and Cathy Robinson; and her cousins Fraser Robinson, James Robinson, and David Robinson; by her uncle and aunt Scott and Marie Gray and cousins Jocelyn Gray and Paul Gray; and by extended family members in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, California, and Scotland, with all of whom she loved spending time.
A celebration of Robyn’s life will be held in Calgary as soon as it is possible to gather a larger in-person group.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Daybreak Rotary Club in Camrose by e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org, noting the name and address of the donor. Tax receipts can be provided. All donations made will go directly to providing books for children from newborn to five years of age in Camrose every month, to encourage literacy and family reading time.
Donations may also be made to the Rotary International Foundation, which provides funding for projects around the globe, and donations can be directed to specific areas of focus, such as literacy. An online portal for donations is available on the Foundation’s website at Rotary.org.
Donations may of course also be made to your favourite charity.
Though the pipes have fallen silent, her music will forever live on
Mountains will stand tall and true, the ocean will sing her song
And in the forests and fields and over gently rolling hills
The sounds of her laughter echo . . . still.
– Gord Robinson
Submitted by Robyn’s mother, Ann Gray, who was her piping teacher, travelling companion and best friend throughout her life. A winner of the Dunvegan Medal at Skye, among many other awards, Ann Gray is one of the most accomplished pipers in the world. She has played with several top-grade bands, published two collections of music and is featured on several commercial recordings. She is a practicing lawyer and lives in Calgary.