TYLER, TX (KLTV) - An East Texas mother who lost her son in a car wreck is honoring his memory by using his passion to raise money for a scholarship in his name.
Panola County Sheriff’s Deputy Denise Gray says fishing was her son Austin’s passion.
“He actually would skip school his senior year. And they would call and tell me, ‘Denise, Austin is not at school.’ And I could go to the pond by the house and say, ‘Austin, let’s go to school.’ He loved fishing,” she said.
And now Denise is making that passion a part of her son’s legacy.
Just months after graduating from high school, the 18-year-old was killed in a car crash in Hallsville.
“It’s the day it stopped,” Gray said.
She says Austin and his girlfriend, Cassie, were headed to the lake for July 4th. They just happened to be passing by the dealership in Longview where Denise was getting her oil changed.
“Pulls up in there and we talk. And then he goes to back out. And he hollers at me, ‘Mama.’ And I turned around and he said, ‘I love you.’ I said, I love you, baby. I’ll see you in a little bit."
That would be the last time Denise would see her son. A doctor delivering the news later that night that Denise’s only child had been killed.
And I just looked at him and said, “are you sure you have the right person?” and he took a piece of paper out of his pocket and he said, ‘William Austin Gray’ and he gave me his date of birth. I don’t remember much after that."
Denise says in the months after the wreck, she wanted to find a way to honor her son’s memory. The fishing tournament was born. A fundraiser for a scholarship fund in Austin’s name. A way to honor the boy who lived fishing. The tournament is generating interest from as far away as Carthage, MO.
“That’s Austin. He never met a stranger. And he’s going to make sure that everyone that’s there. He’s going to make sure their friends, no matter where their from,” Denise said.
Out of tragedy, there is something good. And for Densie Gray that good is a gathering of people doing what her son loved.
“Don’t forget my kid. Remember that smile. Remember that infectious laugh. That’s what I want.”
The Austin Gray Memorial Scholarship Fishing Tournament is set for April 20 at Lake Murvaul. A fundraiser will also be held the night before, on April 19.
Those interested can contact Denise at the Panola County Sheriff’s Office or by calling event organizer Sammy Peace at 903-754-3860.