A man who helped countless people achieve sobriety, years after achieving his own, was remembered last week as a “humble” person with a knack for helping others.
Mansell Grey’s ability made him well-known throughout the Northwest Territories, parts of western Canada and around the world. Born in Stewart, B.C. on Jan. 8, 1925, Grey passed away in Hay River on Oct. 22. He was 85. Grey came to Hay River in the early 1990s after serving as an addiction counsellor at the Halfway River First Nation for six years in the mid-1970s and another four years counselling in Fort Providence.
Grey, who battled alcoholism beginning in his late 30s following a severe skiing accident, achieved sobriety in 1974. He never drank again. Grey never shied away from telling his story, including the loss of his family, his marriage and his business because of alcoholism, and the seven years he spent on Vancouver’s “skid row.” Grey’s honesty allowed him to easily connect to others facing the same demons he once did.
“My bottom line with sobriety is the day I can’t sit on the curb, on the street, with a drunk covered in puke and tell him there’s a better way – that’s when I’ll get drunk,” he said in a 2007 interview with The Hub.
In 2005, Grey was invited to attend South Korea’s first-ever Alcoholics Anonymous conference as a guest speaker.
“I put on a talk to 120 to 140 people. Of course they were all Korean and I had to talk through an interpreter, but we caught onto each other quickly,” Grey recalled years later.
In October 2009, Grey’s daughters Alexis (Skipper), Allison, and Deborah were in town to help their father celebrate his 35th year of sobriety.
On Saturday afternoon, mourners packed Hay River’s Assumption Catholic Church for Grey’s memorial service. Father Don Flumerfelt summed up the feelings of many in attendance, saying Grey was “a unique gift of a man who has had his ups and downs.”
Friends Ron Arsenault, Ron Antoine, Bobbi Hamilton and Norman Yakeleya provided Grey’s eulogy.
Arsenault read an email from Deborah, a former Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative MP, thanking the community for making her father’s final years blessed.
“He loved you all as family,” Arsenault said, reading from the email. “Bless you all.”
Hamilton recalled Grey’s role as a foster parent, and his ability to reach out to alcoholics in other NWT communities. She discussed Grey’s run at politics, including his loss to Liberal MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew in the 1993 federal election, and his election to Hay River Town Council a year later. Following the death of his wife Eleanor in August 1995, Grey resigned from council and made a short-term exodus from the NWT. When he returned, Grey found work as a shuttle driver, a cab driver and a counsellor to people battling alcoholism. Hamilton fondly recalled his work with inmates at the South Mackenzie Correction Centre (SMCC) in Hay River.
“It was a great place for him to counsel inmates because they had no place to go, they had to listen to him,” she said, sparking laughter from those in attendance.
Grey’s greatest gift was his willingness to help those suffering from alcoholism, Hamilton explained.
“Many people who are sober today will tell you it’s because he loved and cared for them, and helped them.”