JUNE 1, 2017 — Lowell Gray, an Internet pioneer who started Shore.Net in his Swampscott garage and later sold it for $43 million, died on Memorial Day after a brief illness. He was 57 and spent the last few years of his life as a farmer in Vermont.
Gray, a native of New Rochelle, NY, was an active member of the North Shore Jewish community, and served as president of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead. He was also committed to Jewish philanthropy, and donated to Cohen Hillel Academy and area synagogues.
“It is a very shocking and profoundly painful loss for the community,” said Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El, who first met Gray 25 years ago when the Harvard-educated entrepreneur joined his synagogue. Gray’s funeral will be held on Friday, June 2 at 10 a.m. at Temple Emanu-El.
“He was just a brilliant young man who was full of wonder and the joy of possibilities,” said Meyer, who noted that Gray helped his temple procure its domain name and assisted in setting up its website. “He had a wonderful, playful spirit. He cared very deeply about his children, and likewise about the congregation. While he surrounded himself in the world of high-tech, he also derived pleasure from the simplicity of life and in his last years he moved up to a farm in Vermont and experienced the joy of the land.”
Gray, who traveled through the Far East and Europe after graduating from Harvard in 1982, worked in high-tech for Cap Gemini and Price Waterhouse, before starting his own software company, Eco Software. By the early 1990s, he had moved to the North Shore and started Shore.Net, one of the area’s earliest public Internet service providers that he later sold to Primus Telecommunications.
In a recent report to his college classmates, he described the early days of the business. He wrote, “I was working 12-15 hour days, utterly consumed with keeping our homegrown service running 24×7. It started as a mom-and-pop operation, hacked together out of used and surplus equipment, funded from savings and credit cards. What we had going for us was technical expertise and dedicated customer service. We built our reputation on never getting a busy signal and no downtime. But we were growing too fast and needed more equipment than we had capital. So I tried to borrow money.
The banks all said no, our business model was unheard of and too risky for them, despite the steady recurring cash flow. I then asked the city of Lynn for help. Our office was in the economically depressed downtown and we had already created good full-time jobs. Lynn/EDIC listened to our story and offered to help us apply for a SBA micro-loan. We got $25,000, and bought the critically-needed new modems and hardware, expanding our capacity and fueling growth again.”
After selling his business in 2000, he moved with his late wife, Elizabeth, and their daughters, Rebecca, Samantha, Josephine and Alexandra, to Nahant. The home, which overlooked the ocean and had views of Boston, was purchased from the estate of Abdul Majid Zabuli, the founder of Afghanistan’s banking system.
By 2005, the couple decided to divorce, and Gray returned to Lynn where he opened an upscale neighborhood bistro, the Oxford Street Grill. Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, a close friend of Gray’s – who went to Israel on a family trip with the Grays – tried to convince Gray to open a kosher restaurant in Lynn. “We took a road trip to Manhattan to check out the kosher restaurant scene and to see if we could partner on opening a glatt kosher restaurant. Though the kosher restaurant never materialized we had a great adventure that included high speeds in Lowell’s Porsche,” said Lipsker, who said Gray would frequently visit his sukkah on Sukkot.
Neil Donnenfeld, who grew close to Gray during the same family trip to Israel, called Gray a beloved and “irreplaceable friend” to many. “He had an extraordinary blend of intelligence, curiosity and determination. He did more in his 57 years than most people do in a full lifetime,” said Donnenfeld.
In a statement, Cohen Hillel praised Gray and his family for their participation in Jewish life. “Lowell and his family were an integral part of Cohen Hillel, and he took great pride in the various simchas that they celebrated with their classmates — from the receiving of their first prayer books, to school plays, science fairs and graduations. His four daughters were outstanding students and remain a part of our Cohen Hillel family.”
In addition to his work, he served as a trustee at the Salem State Enterprise Center and at North Shore Community College. In 2000, he received an honorary PhD from Salem State.
After Gray sold his Lynn restaurant, he married Lina Hristova. The couple moved to a farm in Woodstock, Vermont in 2015, where he served as a planning commissioner and a member of the town’s volunteer fire department.
Following Gray’s funeral service on Friday morning at Temple Emanu-El, Gray will be buried at Temple Emanu-El Memorial Park in Danvers. His family will receive guests at the Swampscott Yacht Club on Friday, up until 5:00 p.m. The shiva will continue at Swampscott Yacht Club on Sat., June 3, from 2 – 4:00 p.m. and 7 – 9:00 p.m.
On Sunday, June 4, the shiva will be held at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead from 2 – 4:00 p.m.