James Laird Gray FREng (1926–2010) was a leading light in the field of steam turbine technology in the UK.
Born in Glasgow in 1926, he was educated in the early war years and qualified for university entrance at the age of just 16. However, he was too young to be admitted, and took up an apprenticeship at Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd in Scotstoun. This was not his first job, however; he had also spent two school summers lumberjacking near Castle Kennedy. At 17 he entered Glasgow University and three years later graduated with a Bachelor of Science (First-Class Honours) in mechanical engineering.
Leaving his native Scotland, he traveled south to begin a career in steam turbine and power station engineering with a post at English Electric in Rugby. In an article published at his retirement, he gave credit for this direction to the chief engineer of English Electric who said "forget naval turbines" and steered him towards power station steam turbines which were "the thing of the future."
Jim Gray married his wife Mary in 1954, and had three children, Alex (b. 1955), Susan (b. 1956) and John (b. 1964).
After English Electric, Gray joined the British Electricity Authority, which later became the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and then the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), where he became head of the CEGB's Turbine Generator Design Branch. A move by the CEGB's Generation, Design and Construction department to Barnwood required him to relocate to Gloucestershire, but he was not happy with the move, and a couple of years later he left to become Manager of Generation, Design and Technical Services at the South of Scotland Electricity Board (SSEB) in Glasgow.
It was an exciting time, with new nuclear power stations coming into service, providing a large part of Scotland's non-fossil fuel generation capacity. He believed further modern nuclear generation capacity to be a key part of future energy supply, and regretted the loss of expertise and manufacturing capacity that has been lost in this sector since the end of new-build nuclear projects in the UK.
During his career, which spanned the entire nationalised electricity supply era in the UK, he received two prestigious awards from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers: the Thomas Hawksley Medal for his investigative work into a major steam turbine failure at Hinkley Point A nuclear power station, and the James Clayton award for work on the ingress of seawater to a reactor at Hunterston B nuclear power station. He was a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Jim Gray retired in the late 1980s, and lived with his wife in Garelochhead, the family home since 1975. He stayed busy in retirement; he and wife were key figures in the renovation and management of a community centre, the Gibson Hall. He also maintained an active interest in public energy policy, particularly in Scotland; in 2008, he authored a pamphlet Electric Power in the New Scotland, which proposed a renewed commitment to nuclear power generation in Scotland, and which formed part of a submission that he made to the Scottish Government Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee's Inquiry into Scotland's Energy Future.
Later in retirement he lost his sight as a result of glaucoma, and subsequently developed chest complaints. After a short period of deteriorating health he died in the family home on 2 August 2010.