In Kevin Gray’s sudden and sad passing, Kansas City loses not just its No. 1 figure in the metropolitan area’s vast and growing professional and amateur sports community, but one of the city’s most passionate and persuasive advocates.
The 51-year-old Kansas City native and longtime president of the Kansas City Sports Commission lost his difficult and short struggle with metastatic cancer on Wednesday. Several of Gray’s friends and business colleagues recall Gray complaining about his hip giving him a lot of trouble during the Big 12 Basketball Championship in Kansas City in March. It was shortly after that he learned he had an extremely rare but aggressive form of metastatic cancer.
To no one’s surprise who worked with or really knew Gray, he was determined to fight the good fight and win, as had become his nature in everything he set his heart and mind to throughout his personal life and professional career.
The head of the city’s Sports Commission was one of those people who made a positive and enduring impression from the first time you met him. He developed a tremendous network of personal and professional relationships, not just in Kansas City but extending well beyond the city limits into the surrounding region. His love for sports and his family was rivaled only by his lifelong love for the city he grew up in, the city professional golf legend Arnold Palmer once called "the best-kept secret in America."
Gray’s career in sports began 29 years ago, not too far from where he grew up, in Columbia, Mo., where he was a sportscaster and sports director at radio station KFRU. Gray joined the staff of the Kansas City Royals in 1986 as the assistant director of marketing and broadcasting. I had the personal good fortune of working with Kevin on several occasions during that time as a member of the corporate communications staff at then-Marion Laboratories. We both served under the same big boss, the late Ewing Kauffman, at the time the founder and owner of the Royals as well as the founder and longtime chairman of the successful home-grown pharmaceutical company that beared Mr. K’s middle name.
Kevin was then exactly as his many friends and business partners describe him still today: gracious, affable, understanding and willing to help as best he could.
Name whatever you want in the realm of sports in Greater Kansas City and Kevin most likely had a major hand in it, whatever it was. One of his biggest legacies is the development of the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. He was the principal advocate in securing Kansas City as a continuing site for the Big 12 basketball tournament.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg insofar as Gray’s influence on the Kansas City sports scene. He was a key player in the development of the Kansas Speedway and bringing NASCAR and major motor racing to our city, the restoration and remodeling initiatives at both Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, and most recently the building of a new $180 million, state-of-the art soccer stadium as the permanent home of Kansas City’s Major League Soccer team, Sporting Kansas City.
Last year, when the National Football League was giving strong consideration to having future Super Bowls contested at select cold-weather sites and Kansas City and the Chiefs were interested in bidding to become one of those future Super Bowl sites, primarily as a tribute to the Chiefs’ late owner, Lamar Hunt, Gray was right in the middle of the KC advocacy effort.
"For too long in Kansas City, we said, ‘No, we can’t,’" Gray said. "Frankly, we need to be saying more, ‘Yes, we can.’"
Kevin Uhlich. Senior vice president of business operations for the Royals, described his friend and business partner as a ball of fire with unsurpassed passion for what he was doing. "His (Gray’s) energy level was off the charts," Uhlich said. "He was an amazing guy. It seemed like he was working on a million projects. He’s definitely going to be missed in the sports community."
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe had this to say about Gray: "To me, nobody loved Kansas City more and wanted the best for Kansas City than Kevin Gray."
Someone else will eventually fill the vacancy left by Gray at the Kansas City Sports Commission. We don’t know at the moment who that will be, but what we do know is Kevin Gray will never be replaced, nor will he be forgotten.