Q&A with Samantha Richardson, co-editor of Miracles Among the Rubble September 08 2020
Q: For those unfamiliar with Carol Gray, what can you tell us about her?
A: Carol Rosemary Gray was born in Sheffield, England, to parents Rosemary Addis, born in Glasgow, Scotland, and James Addis, born locally in Sheffield, England.
Carol met Stuart Gray at church in Sheffield when they were 16 or 17 years old and a few years later they married and were eventually blessed with seven children. Sadly, because of illness, my Nana was never able to have more children, so Mum remained an only child. Mum always said that when she started her own family, she would fill the house with children. She loved babies and loved to love; being a mother made her so happy.
As the years went by and her children grew, mum felt a niggling sense that she had another purpose, which at this point she could not articulate. She was not aware of how strong her desire was to fill this purpose until she saw the atrocities on television of the war in the former Yugoslavia in the summer of 1992. The day my mother was galvanized into action was after watching a news report where a mother, running like a terrified rabbit and clinging to her three young children while dodging an onslaught of army vehicles, bullets, shells, and fire, tried desperately to get them to safety.
Q: Can you give us a brief overview of Carol's humanitarian work?
A: The death of Yugoslavian President Josip Tito in 1980 ended a six-decade-long coalition between the republics of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. In 1991 Serbian nationalist groups called for independence in Croatia and Slovenia, leading the Serb - dominated Yugoslav army to lash out in both countries. The ensuing civil war soon engulfed the whole region spilling over into Bosnia. In 1995 NATO intervention brought the war to an end, which divided Bosnia into two self-governing entities—a Bosnian Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation.
At the height of the war in late 1992, mum and I joined a mile-long aid convoy to Zagreb, Croatia, in what would be the first of many convoys to these devastated regions. During the following three years, Carol took convoys to Croatia and Bosnia more than twenty times, visiting refugee camps and orphanages, rebuilding schools and hospitals, and clearing the land of mines to allow people to plant donated seeds, using donated shovels. In Karlovac, Croatia, Carol took much-needed aid to orphanages. On the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, she and other convoy members rebuilt a school in Rovanska and delivered supplies to suffering civilians on the front line in Zadar. In Sarajevo, Bosnia, she delivered surgical equipment to a hospital. Also, in Sarajevo, her convoy members renovated and furnished a school for orphans. In Kupres, Bosnia, Carol’s convoy worked with locals to clear the city of trash and renovate the hospital. Impressive as the work projects and donations were, Carol maintained that the most important service she and other convoy members gave was their love, manifested through hugs, and a readiness to listen.
After the war in Bosnia ended in December 1995, Carol carried on taking convoys of hope. With her last convoy in 2001, she had been to Croatia and Bosnia more than forty times.
Q: You accompanied your mother on some of her humanitarian trips. What are some of your memories from these trips?
A: As I reflect on the aid trips I undertook with mum, there are a number of experiences that stand out. I’m not sure whether it was naivety, ignorance, or that part of me that yearns for adventure, but I never gave it a second thought when mum and I had a discussion about how to get the aid to those who needed it most, which meant going to the front lines of the fighting. Getting the aid into the country was one thing; getting it to front line crisis areas in Croatia to make sure it was delivered directly to those in desperate need was another thing entirely.
On one occasion, as I drove the truck to the next village where we were to deliver aid, we could hear gunfire and explosions close by. As we passed homes and buildings in ruins, the destruction, devastation, and the residents’ heart-wrenching pain at the loss of their loved ones clawed at our hearts and followed our every move. Mum felt very nervous and worried about my safety. I wore a hat constantly, so I didn’t stand out so much because of my long blonde hair. On one occasion we stopped at a village that had its own soldiers, feeling we had some protection. We delivered the aid, told stories, and hugged a lot. What small rations of food they had they gladly shared with us. The soldiers invited us to see their home and ushered us to a bedroom shutting the door behind us. Just as I was about to react in defense, the soldiers noticed the shock and worry on our faces and started to laugh. They reached for the weapons they had hidden away. All they wanted was to show us the weapons they had used to defend their village. They were proud of what they had achieved. The Serbians had tried to occupy their land but were not successful. As they told their stories, gradually mum and I began to relax and joined in the laughter as we quietly listened to their tales of heroism.
There were moments where we laughed so hard at the silliest things, which brought small moments of respite and healing. On our return home, we had 1500 miles to drive to reach a comfy bed and normal food! We had delivered all our aid supplies, so the van was empty. Mum was exhausted and for the first time in days had managed to get a few hours of sleep in the back. As I drove, I noticed we were nearing the Croatian/Slovenian border. I called out to mum that the ID checkpoint was coming up. She jumped up half-asleep, diving around the back of the wagon like a crazy person, wobbling around because—surprise, surprise—she had lost her small backpack, which contained all our money and her passport. I pulled up to the border window while mum was still in the back frantically looking for her ID. To my astonishment, they just waved me through without checking. Breathing a sigh of relief, we realized she now couldn’t join me in the front seat—they might think I had a stowaway. As I drove on, I heard mum giggling and squealing in the back as she swung from side to side and rolled around, falling over, her legs in the air, then her behind, lunging back and forth. I couldn’t drive in a straight line as tears of laughter filled my eyes. When we were far enough away from the border, I stopped to let mum out so she could sit with me in the front. Shortly after we got underway, something hit me on the back of the head—it was mum’s missing bag.
Q: How did Carol raise the money and donations she used for humanitarian relief?
A: Initial donations came from Carol’s appeal to local church members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What started out as a local project soon turned into a regional effort, which then grew into a national humanitarian project. The national newspapers, moved by the idea of a mother of seven spearheading such a project, became involved. Nationwide appeals went out on television inspiring others to donate in any way they could.
As the project grew, Carol traveled throughout the United Kingdom and the United States, devoting her time tirelessly to speaking at conventions, colleges, and other events in order to raise funds for the convoys. She was met with such generosity and was so grateful to all who gave of their substance and to those who donated anonymously.
Q: When did you decide that you wanted to publish her personal writings? What was the process of putting them together and seeking publishing?
A: Mum spent many years writing a manuscript by hand that she eventually wanted to publish. Sadly, her illness took hold and in 2010 she was taken from us. A year or so later, my father gave me a typed draft of the manuscript, along with many handwritten notes and additional writings, and asked if I would take this on as a project. Having never before published a manuscript, I was nervous and procrastinated, unsure where to start. However, the real reason I held off moving forward with the manuscript was my inability to read through more than a few pages without tears rolling down my cheeks. I could hear her voice in every word I read. I finally chided myself and was able to move through the book with a sense of purpose, one of a longing to bring mum’s manuscript to life and fulfill her desires for it to be published. Around the same time, I received a call from my co-editor Rebecca Johnson asking if she could assist with editing. Having Rebecca to assist me spurred me on and I began searching for a publisher. I researched publishers that might be interested in taking on the manuscript and was delighted to find that Loyd Ericson from Greg Koffords Books knew of my mother and, after reading our proposal, was happy to assist me in preparing the manuscript for publishing.
Q: What do you feel your mother's legacy is?
A: One could say that my mother is a bit of an anomaly—she was strong but also vulnerable. She was never judgmental and had a courageous naivety that allowed her to seemingly float past danger. As a consequence, many doors opened up for her that otherwise may have remained closed.
My mother called herself an ordinary woman, but she would demonstrate time and again that her spirit and determination could move mountains. She believed unflinchingly that any one of us is capable of effecting change and can achieve anything they put their mind to.
My siblings and I always say that mum had a super glue effect with everyone: she had charisma, was fun, and just drew people toward her like a moth to light with her healing hugs. Most importantly, and in simple terms, my mother (indeed, both my parents) left a legacy of love for others.
Q: What do you hope readers will gain from reading this book?
A: Carol had a huge heart—she loved openly and generously shared that love in many ways. Her hugs had the power to heal. She was deeply grateful to her Heavenly Father and threw herself into serving others, promising that she would give a portion of herself “to provide a listening ear, an understanding heart and hands, and feet that would not weary in service.” We cried together, we laughed together, we hugged and consoled others, and our hearts ached for the families who had lost so much. We fell to our knees and prayed together, we faced down many frightening challenges together and rejoiced with grateful hearts at coming out the other side alive. Each convoy presented the volunteers with opportunities to overcome new challenges, experience amazing moments of learning, and discover along the way how truly capable and extraordinary we can all be. I hope readers will believe they too have a tremendous capacity to effect change, whether in their own lives or in the lives of others. Many of us, particularly women, can feel reticent to make the leap into the unknown, afraid to take that first step beyond our comfort zones. This book shows what incredible personal growth could be waiting for us if we take that leap of faith.