John Bouvier Bray, devoted Montclair church member and professorial Verona crossing guard, passed away at age 76, in Montclair on October 24, 2021; peacefully, and surrounded by the blessings of friends and family.
John was born in Paris in 1945 and spent his early childhood in the rural French village of Vaux-sous-Aubignny, in the Haute Marne region. He moved to New Orleans at age six; and also lived in Atlanta; Plainfield, NJ; Minneapolis; London; Bruges, Belgium; Boston, and Montreal.
Throughout his life, John loved French culture and wrote about how it found expression in and enriched this country. At the same time, moving here at age six, he embraced the U.S., his new country. He served as a French translator for the U.S. army intelligence in the Congo in the early 1960s and received a bachelor’s in American and English Literature, summa cum laude, from Syracuse University. He also and completed master’s degree course work at the University of Minnesota in a vibrant intellectual program in American Studies; focusing on religion, but also including literature and politics. In addition, he received a master’s in Peace Studies in the late 1970s from Antioch College for an independent project in England, where he worked on cultural conflict resolution projects with religious groups and non-governmental organizations, the BBC, and the United Nations.
He maintained the independence of his scholarly and religious pursuits, and supported himself as a sales professional. This was in greenhouse design and ergonomic furniture, during the later 1980s, in Boston and Montreal. Joining family–Michele Bray and Lillian West-—in Verona and Montclair in 1991, he sold printing for Accent Press in the late 1990s for five years, followed by launching his own Verona Books, for which he collected and sold rare and first edition books at regional book fairs.
More recently, John found joy in the community of the Laning Elementary School in Verona, where he served as a crossing guard from 2008 to 2018. He loved being outdoors in nature, greeting school children by name, and getting to know the many interesting parents. He held salon-like conversations on a wide range of topics, after his guard hours.
A member and employee of the Mother Church in Boston in the early 1980s, John was, beginning in 1991, a proud member of Montclair’s Christian Science Church, where he led and served with distinction. In recent years, he was the hands-on chair of housing and grounds. In the early 2000s, while on the board of the Church and board president, he offered over several years his strategic patience and finesse, working with other Church leaders and members to create a concrete vision for the future. In addition, he was a lifelong scholar in historic Christianity and an avid student of religion and healing, and of world spirituality, especially Indian.
John was a bold and subtle adventurer in the nuances of life. He was cultured and intellectual, an independent scholar in French American culture and history, and in religion and healing. He was a nature lover, a poet, a talented and sensitive community organizer, and a devoted family person. He was also fun to be around, as a witty and bold raconteur.
He is survived in Europe by his son Christopher Van Hemelryck-Bray, Christopher’s mother and John’s former wife Anny, and Christopher’s son Casper; all in Bruges, Belgium; and by three siblings in France. In Verona, John is survived by his long-term partner Sheila Getzen. A private memorial for family and friends will be held in Montclair this month.
With his distinct personality, strong and probing values, and range of pursuits and interests, what is John’s key life achievement: He did whatever he did with love. As noted by Vincent Van Gogh: “What is done with love is done well.”