Library director receives high praise at retirement party
Those who walk into Darien Library may notice a plaque hanging beside the new indoor automatic book returns machine.
The plaque reads “The materials sorter is dedicated to Alan Kirk Gray, Darien Library Director, 2014-2020.”
Gray, a Darien resident, is stepping down after 17 years at the library, six of those as director.
More than 100 people came to Gray’s retirement party Thursday afternoon in the library’s courtyard. In attendance was Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, State Rep. Terrie Wood, and Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky. Gray’s children and grandchildren were also at the party.
Those who attended got to cool off from the heat with free ice cream from a Mister Softee ice cream truck.
In his speech, Gray spoke about the library being a community center for the town.
“Every community needs three places: Where you work, where you live, and the place where people come together on equal terms — that’s known as the basis of the democratic process,” Gray said.
Stevenson praised Gray for all of his years of “tremendous dedication, not only to the Darien Library but also to the town of Darien,” she said.
Like Gray, Stevenson also referred to the library as the community center for the town. She said Gray has provided “extraordinary leadership to the library staff and the community.”
“Under his guidance, the Darien Library continues to provide a state of the art facility and serve the community with excellence during both ordinary and extraordinary times,” she said.
“A straight shooter”
Jon Zagrodzky, Chairman of the Board of Finance, praised Gray highly.
When creating the the library budget, Zagrodzky said Gray “knows his business. He’s been impressive from day one.”
Zagrodzky continued: “Every budget that he did was prepared with integrity. When Alan comes up and says that he needs something in a budget, he is a straight shooter. He tells it like it is. He means what he says and he does what he says and every year, every budget that he presents, he comes in on budget — Never more, never less. That’s an example I wish everybody in every town would follow, even at the government level, when it comes to budgeting.”
Additionally, Zagrodzky said Gray is a “defender” of the library in that he’s always looking out for it and is always looking for ways to improve it.
“He knows what we have here in this town is an asset. And he never would permit anything that would impair that asset,” Zagrodzky said.
He added Gray always puts his staff’s “best interests at heart.”
“Alan is a defender of people,” he said. “He talks about staff members by name and talks about the well-being of the library team.”
Zagrodzky said Gray is not only a great leader when everything is going well; he is one in tough times, too.
“It’s another thing to be a great leader all the time, even when you don’t get what you want or when things are not perfect — and that’s Alan Gray.”
Wood read a General Assembly Official Citation from the State of Connecticut, which thanked Gray for his commitment to the Darien Library.
“Your good spirit, ideas and innovations kept the library on the cutting edge of delivery of services and new technologies, while maintaining the warm community feel of the library,” Wood read. “Your inspiration has been motivational to staff, board members and library users alike.”
In Wood’s speech, she said it’s been a pleasure to work with Gray, “in all that you’ve done and all that the joys you’ve brought to our community. You will definitely be missed.”
Tamara Sload, president of the library Board of Trustees, said Gray has attended every town budget meeting, as well as pays careful attention to anything that needs to be done within the library.
“Alan has brought great joy to his work and we are grateful for his service and leadership to Darien library,” she said.
Darien resident Peter Eder, who is on Darien’s Commission on Aging and is very active in the community, told The Darien times that Gray has done a great job as director.
“The author Patrick Ness said, ‘Librarians are tour-guides for all of knowledge.’ Alan is a world class tour guide and has helped ensure that Darien is one of those great libraries that doesn’t just offer collections or build services, but ones that build communities,” Eder said.
Additionally, she said the library is consistently ranked among the best libraries nationally, with the highest per capita circulation in the state, and was awarded five stars by the Library Journal.
The library and its staff were named a top workplace by Hearst Connecticut Media Group in 2018, Stevenson said.
“That’s a huge credit, not only to Alan and his predecessor, but to the library board and all of the staff,” she added.
She added the Darien Library continues to provide the “highest level of education, entertainment, enrichment and community building.”
In Gray’s speech, he credited the library staff for its success.
“Any well run organization has many parts that make it happen, and the part of it that you all see when you come into the library is the staff — the heart and soul of this library,” he said.
Gray’s replacement is expected to be announced within the next few weeks. Caroline Mandler Lopez, the library’s associate director of operations, is serving as acting director in the meantime.
Gray told The Darien Times he already has a few plans for his retirement: He would like to reteach himself calculus, pick up astronomy again, and get back to photography.
Additionally, he said he may “do some model-making because when I was younger, I was a model maker.”
In his speech, Gray said he loves the community’s support of the library — “the wonderful private, public partnership between it and the town, the extraordinary staff, the fantastic building that we built with privately donated funds, the role the board plays, all came together in a way that the stars aligned over Darien and created this incredible resource that’s gong to be here for the next century if we just pay attention.”
He added that he wants the library “to always to be the part of this community where democracy works and grows — and I think it always will be.”