Beverly (Gray) Elson

- February 26, 2024

Beverly Elson (Gray)

Professor of Art History, collage artist, and beautiful person, Beverly Elson (Gray) died February 26 in Orange, Virginia.

Born in La Jolla, California in 1940 to the Reverend Dr. Edward L. R. Elson and Helen Elson, Beverly grew up in Washington, D.C., where her father was pastor of National Presbyterian Church. She graduated from Mount Vernon, which was then a girls’ prep school; American University (B.A. and M.A.), Southeastern University (MBA), and The University of Maryland (Ph.D.), with a dissertation on the architecture of the Library of Congress.

Although 30 of her teaching years were devoted to D.C.’s Southeastern University, where she also held administrative positions, she ended her teaching career at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and held other teaching positions at American University, Georgetown University, George Mason University, and Charles County Community College. Early in her career she received two Fulbright grants for teaching in Vietnam; she also taught in Cairo as a teaching fellow at American University and as an exchange professor in Cyprus. Along with art history, she taught classes bridging the humanities’ disciplines and pioneered distance learning. Wherever she taught, Beverly’s students wrote that she introduced them to new ways to look at art; also, they said, she was funny and interesting – a truly gifted and beloved teacher.

Beverly’s teaching across disciplines and her international concerns intersected with her own artistic enterprises. Her collage creations were exhibited in Sofia, Bulgaria, Egypt, India, and in the House Office Building as part of a project between the Embassy of Egypt and Congress. She curated art collections for the American Embassies in Geneva and Stockholm through the Art in Embassies program. She was also a writer; her accounts of adventures abroad should have been widely published: they are vivid and funny – even about the dangers to which her adventuresome spirit led. Her themed parties, especially at Halloween, called on Beverly’s creativity and challenged that of her friends. Her gingerbread house gifts were works of imaginative art. A lifelong member of National Presbyterian Church, she wrote the first article explaining the complex “faceted” windows of the “new” building in 1969.

Her husband of 36 years, Frank Madison Gray Jr. died in 2012. Pre-deceased also by her sister Mary Faith and her parents, Beverly is survived by her sister Eleanor (Heginbotham), brother David Elson (Kathy Bilton), nieces Robin Heginbotham and Melanie Downie and family, nephew Eric Heginbotham and family, and many cousins. Her lifelong friend Gardiner Hubbard Myers brightened her last years, and Denise Lynch, a Gray family relative, helped her through her last years of illness unstintingly. They and her friends will miss her exuberant, original style, her kindness, her creative approach to all of life. Beverly danced, played the piano, especially Chopin, whose music she loved, absorbed opera, and re-imagined and re-shaped homes in Savannah, Washington, Nova Scotia, and Orange, VA, where, in the Gray ante-bellum estate, she created art, entertained, and lived with beloved pets and, above all, with beauty.

The celebration of Beverly’s vivid life on this earth – and the new one she anticipated – will take place on Friday, April 19 at 1 p.m. in the Chapel of the Presidents in National Presbyterian Church; 4101 Nebraska Avenue; DC; 20016. In her memory donations may be made to the Archives and History Ministry of National Presbyterian Church.