Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 9:04 pm | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joni Gray Dies at 75

Orcutt native remembered for her tireless and dedicated service to the Santa Maria Valley

Former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joni Gray died suddenly Wednesday evening at age 75. Click to view larger
Former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joni Gray died suddenly Wednesday evening at age 75. (Noozhawk file photo)

Former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joni Gray, who died Wednesday, is being remembered for her tireless and dedicated service to the Santa Maria Valley in many different ways.

Gray, 75, reportedly collapsed in court earlier this week, and passed away suddenly Wednesday evening at Marian Regional Medical Center.

Former colleagues expressed shock at learning of the loss.

Gray spent two years on the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission before being picked in 1998 by Gov. Pete Wilson to fill a Board of Supervisors vacancy for the Fourth District.

The vacancy for the district representing Orcutt and Lompoc arose when incumbent Tim Staffel was appointed judge.

She then ran for the office and was elected Nov. 3, 1998, for a two- year term. On March 7, 2000, Gray was re-elected to her first four-year term and went on to serve several terms through 2012, when she was defeated by Peter Adam. 

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf served with Gray for six years, recalling the welcome and encouragement the veteran member provided the newcomer. Wolf also noted Gray was quick-witted and extremely smart.

“Joni was a very thoughtful and compassionate woman,” Wolf added. “I recall fondly the times I would go to her home for her annual barbecue celebrating the beginning of the Santa Maria rodeo.  

“Joni loved and worked very hard for her community, and her passing will be a tremendous loss to all who knew her. I know it will be for me,” Wolf said.

Gray’s involvement in the Elks Rodeo began as a young girl riding in the parade, and included being a queen candidate, parade grand marshal, parade announcer and host of an annual barn party.

“Joni was a fascinating woman with North County roots that ran deeper than most,” said Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. “She embraced the Western lifestyle and was a huge supporter of the Elks Rodeo and FFA. 

“As a huge sports fan, she has been the backbone and driving influence behind the North County Athletic Roundtable that recognizes local high school athletes,” Lavagnino said. “I will miss her greatly and hope I can live up to her legacy.”

She was married to George Wittenburg and has a daughter, Samantha.

A former teacher at Santa Maria High and Allan Hancock College, Gray spent 10 years on the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District board of trustees, acted as former County Schools Superintendent Bill Cirone’s administrative assistant, and previously worked for then-county Supervisor Harrell Fletcher.

Gray was a rare attorney who didn’t attend law school, choosing instead to study and pass the California Bar Exam to get her license.

After serving 14 years on the Board of Supervisors, Gray focused on her family law and estate planning practice, operating from a second-story office in Old Town Orcutt, about a block from where her parents lived when she was born more than seven decades ago.

Recently she participated in the ongoing campaign to raise funds to build the new OASIS Senior Center. 

When the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce named Gray as the recipient of the Robert F. Grogan Award for Public Service in 2014, she credited her parents for emphasizing the importance of public service.

“You just learned that was part of your responsibility as a person,” she told Noozhawk.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >