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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 9:48 pm | Fair 49º


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.

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