Alison Gray

Alison Gray 1943-2021

Photo of Alison Gray
Photo by Robert Cross

A Tribute

My first memories of Alison go back to the 1970s when we were colleagues in the Sociology & Social Work Department housed in old buildings in Clermont Tce. While latest recollections are of conversations in Marsden Books and the café alongside Karori library.  These places neatly highlight Alison’s life and career that constantly moved between social research and literary circles in and beyond Wellington. This journey was initially marked by an MA (Hons) degree in English from Auckland (1968) and an MA in Sociology conferred by VUW (in 1978).  Between 1978 and 1986 she worked as a Research Assistant and Junior Lecturer, mainly teaching research methods, and these leanings towards applied sociology saw her becoming a partner in Urban Research Associates and subsequently a Director of her own business Graymatter Research Ltd that was widely used by policymakers from the late 1980s onwards.

Alison’s professional and personal energy was prodigious. She wrote 11 books and contributed to a very extensive number of Government reports, evaluations and projects. The Smith Women (with Rosemary Barrington, 1981) and The Jones Men (1983), for example, were local landmarks in feminist sociological literature using oral histories. While her research, evaluation and training skills were frequently used by agencies like The Family Commission, Refugee Resettlement, Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Education who recognised her expertise and interest in the health and wellbeing of families and whanau, particularly vulnerable children and women. She was also involved with monitoring many development projects and facilitating training in evaluation, most notably in the Pacific.

Alison also found the time to write several well-received novels and children's books.

This impressive array of publications brought her many awards across these various genres. She was a resident at the Stout Centre with a Claude McCarthy Fellowship in 1987 and in 1990 received a New Zealand Commemoration Medal for services to women, along with a QSM for her work in research and policy in 2003. While literary recognition included a PEN Fellowship for fiction (in 1996).

The Alison I best remember was a warm, good-humoured and above all, vital personality. She experienced the cruel fate of contracting MND but was still doing work for the Ministry of Women until recently. Alison died peacefully in early September 2021.

Please send any messages to

David Pearson (with the assistance of Garth Baker)