Monday, October 24, 2011

Gil Gray, Where Have You Gone?

I don't know what sent me searching the other day for Gil, my old boss, from my Cincinnati days.  All I found was a dissatisfying generic listing that didn't really tell me whether or not his commercial photography business still exists.  I started working for Gil a few days after moving to the Queen City in the early 90s - my first move away from home and my first "real" job - after answering a small ad for a "commercial photographer's assistant" in the local paper.  I knew nothing about being an assistant and even less about photography, but he gave me the job. 

Before we moved to nicer, airier digs, his studios were located in an old building in the heart of downtown, years of soot and grime accumulated on the outside walls.  It had a cantankerous freight elevator and all of the windows were blacked out so that he could control the light inside.  Patti was his real right hand, setting up the shots, loading the film cartridges, getting the light right.  She ran the office with an easy efficiency and humor and I adored her.  Gil would come in after Patti had gotten the shot ready and make final touches before taking the photos and Patti would empty the cartridges and I'd get in the VW Golf and take the film in for processing.

That's really what my job entailed: running errands.  I also helped with billing, picked up and returned jobs, sometimes loaded and unloaded the 8" x 10" film cartridges and also bought products for photo shoots such as mounds of fresh mint from the wholesale grocers' market, a shopping cart full of Depends Undergarments, bottles of bath soap, toys, Metamucil wafers, frozen dinners - whatever was needed for a particular job.  Proctor & Gamble was our biggest client, but Jergens was there and Kendall Futuro, too.  I put a lot of miles on the VW as well as a few dents.  I also earned two of the only three speeding tickets of my driving career.  Gil insisted I carry a car phone which was about the size and heft of a brick.  I felt very urban.

Every morning Gil would send me across the street to Izzy's Deli for a bran muffin and a cup of coffee.  He gave me enough money to buy muffins for me and Patti, too.  I was addicted to the gooey chocolate chip chocolate muffins: breakfast of champions.  In the afternoon he'd send me back to Izzy's for a bowl of chicken soup and a hunk of bread.  The studio was always stocked with large bottles of Evian and Gil encouraged Patti and me to consume one bottle per day.  It's how I kicked my soda habit.  When he needed some down time he'd disappear into one of the back rooms and spend a half hour on the tanning bed.  It was the first one I'd ever seen and it scared me to death.

Gil could be cranky, sarcastic and tough to work with, but he had a generous and soft heart and I think he genuinely loved Patti and me.  There was a sadness about him the source of which I could never identify - though I had some theories.  Sometimes he'd press a 20 into my hand for the weekend and he wrote bonus checks with no discernible  connection to merit.  He bought me a huge color TV for my birthday one year and if he heard me grumbling about money he'd ask me - gruffly - how much did I need?  It was his way of showing his care and I was never offended by it nor took advantage.

After two years in the city I was ready to leave and when I broke the news to Gil he offered to bring me into the business; to teach me about photography and how to make color copies (this was in the days when ad houses used color copies to create their mock-ups).  I didn't even consider it, though the offer made me feel proud.  It also broke my heart.  I felt that I was abandoning him, that I wasn't grateful enough for everything he'd done for me.  I guess not unlike a child leaving home after being under the tender care of her parents.

So this is my belated thanks to Gil Gray.  Wherever you are.  I hope life has been kind to you.


  1. Is this Gil's business?

    Hope you find him to reconnect...would make his day for sure!

  2. I, too, worked for Gil (for 1 year). I call it the worst and best job I ever had. The first day I was there, he threw a bag of garbage at me. My last day, he threw a book at me. Each day in between I didn't know what the weather would be. I learned alot, and for that I'm grateful, but my experience wasn't as "cute" as yours. I worked from 7-7 every day and was a completely exhausted 22 year old. But I wouldn't have traded what I learned. I also ran errands and learned the city well, got to know some really cool, interesting people and came out of my shell quite a bit. The job definitnely taught me to be more assertive and that has positively carried through my jobs thereafter. He was interesting to watch and had a lot of wisdom to offer.

    I saw his daughter, Hope, a few years and ago and she looked well. I think Patti has twins.

  3. Wow! I'm amazed that you found this post! Very interesting to hear about your experience. Gil was a unique guy. Probably my years away softened my memories quite a bit, but like you, I carried away many good things from the experience. Thank you for commenting. Good to hear Hope is okay and I recently reconnected w/ Patti, which was really nice. Take care!


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