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Barbara Gray, lawmaker who led way for women on Beacon Hill, dies at 87

Former state representative Barbara Gray, who helped pave the way on Beacon Hill for women to rise in the legislative ranks, passed away on Friday at 87, her family said.

Gray represented Framingham in the state House of Representatives from 1973 through 1996, helping found the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators and earning a reputation as a undaunted advocate for a range of social-service causes.

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“She was just spectacular, and fearless,” said Representative Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat who served with Gray during the tail end of the Gray’s House career. “She did not give up, and she could be exhausting. When other people were ready to let up a little bit, she wasn’t. She wanted to go full-speed ahead on whatever the issue was.”

A mother of four, Gray was an activist in Framingham before joining the Legislature. She served on the Framingham PTO and planning board.

A liberal Republican, Gray was elected to the House in 1972 as part of a powerful freshman class that included future big names in Massachusetts politics like Edward J. Markey, Barney Frank, and Ray Flynn. In 1990, she lost her Republican primary, but ran as a Democrat in the general election, and retained her seat.

On Beacon Hill, she championed abortion rights, protections for victims of abuse, open-space conservation and recycling legislation. She was an early gay-rights supporter, filing legislation in 1978 after the assassination of San Francisco Mayor politician Harvey Milk. Gray chronicled her career in a memoir, entitled, “A Woman’s Ways and Means.”

Story, who said other women legislators looked up to Gray as something of a pioneer, said, “She was no-nonsense, and if people didn’t like the positions that she took, that was just fine with her. She was not someone who needed approval from every angle. She was very willing to forge her own way.”

Gray moved to Wellfleet a little over a decade ago, said her son-in-law Curt Felix. Once there, she stayed active in local government, joining several town boards, he said.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at Jim.OSullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.
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