Gray Little, family historian and invaluable member of Little Hardware, dies at 64

·3 min read

When he was just 14 years old, Gray Little became an official employee of the family business. In fact, his brother said, Gray Little started much earlier than that.

A fixture of Little Hardware Company in South End since he graduated from college, Little was a go-to employee for questions about rare parts. Family members said he was also the de facto family historian, a meticulous keeper of documents and trinkets, and an invaluable resource for the store’s loyal customer base.

Little died on July 18 at the age of 64 after a 19-month battle with brain cancer.

A Charlotte fixture

For people unfamiliar with it, Little Hardware’s name is deceiving. The store and its selection are expansive, as is its 100-year history. Little was there for much of it. The exact age of Little Hardware is up for some debate. The family opened Auto Parts and Salvage Company at the current location on Mint Street in 1922, but the business was officially incorporated in 1924, according to family members.

Gray Little was there for one of the most eventful days in the store’s memory — a fire that burnt the showroom and adjacent parts of the building in April 1986.

Little’s brother, Nevan Little, said Gray was the first to spot the blaze, which they believe was caused by a cigarette and fueled by unusually strong winds. It was lunchtime, and Gray Little was in his office near where the fire started. He tried to extinguish it, but soon the flames licked higher up the building and spread out of control.

That was a Friday. Little Hardware opened back up Monday morning, using its warehouse as the showroom.

That was the Little family work ethic, and Gray Little was no exception. He was very often the first one to work in the morning. And he never stopped learning.

‘Big shoes to fill’

Gray Little was known as the family historian. Little Hardware is a Charlotte fixture, building a loyal customer base over its 100-year history.
Gray Little was known as the family historian. Little Hardware is a Charlotte fixture, building a loyal customer base over its 100-year history.

Leslie Little, Gray’s sister, said that when Gray was a child, he read an entire multi-book encyclopedia collection — the kind where the books run in alphabetical order.

That thirst for knowledge continued throughout his life. Ben Little, Gray’s son, said clearing out Gray’s office after his death meant poring through seemingly endless stacks of catalogs.

If a new part came into the store, or one that he didn’t recognize, Gray would make a point to read the label. At trade shows, he would talk to every vendor.

Gray Little’s shoes have been big to fill, his brother Nevan said.

For community, Gray Little gave time and money

Gray Little was a passionate cyclist and runner, his family said.
Gray Little was a passionate cyclist and runner, his family said.

Gray Little was a passionate runner a cyclist, his family said. Even when he was sick, he managed to get a bike ride in with the help of his friends supporting him, Leslie Little said.

He also gave time and money to the community. Gray Little served on the board of the Steele Creek Athletic Association when his sons played baseball, and eventually became the League President. He served in that position for 10 years, according to Gray’s family obituary.

He served on the Board of Trustees at Gaston Day School, and became chairman there, as well. He also became assistant district administrator for Little League International North Carolina District 3 and was involved with Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that uses athletics to inspire girls to develop and exhibit confidence.

The family asks that memorial donations be made to Girls on the Run Greater Charlotte or another charity.

Gray is survived by his wife, Mary K., who met Gray when they were in college. They were married for 42 years. He is also survived by his two sons, Ben and Jay, and his grandson, Eugene, as well as siblings Nevan, Leslie and Blaine.