Former Deputy Chief Joe Grayson Jr. dies at 72

02/28/2020 02:30 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Joe Grayson Jr.
TAHLEQUAH – Former Deputy Chief Joe Grayson died at the age of 72 on Feb. 25. He served as deputy chief from 2003-11 under former Principal Chief Chad Smith.

He was born on May 20, 1948, to Joe Grayson Sr. and Charlotte (Robin) Grayson and grew up in Cherokee County.

Smith tapped Grayson to run with him in 2003 when he ran and was elected to a second four-year term. Grayson was re-elected in 2007 but declined to run again in 2011 after suffering a heart attack in 2010.

A statement from the Cherokee Nation reads: “The Cherokee Nation is truly saddened by the passing of former Deputy Chief Joe Grayson.” 

“The Cherokee Nation’s thoughts and prayers are with his children and the Grayson family during this difficult time,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “We honor Deputy Chief Grayson for his tireless leadership to the Cherokee people, and are flying our flags over the tribe today at half-staff in tribute of him.”

Grayson spent much of his life as a plumbing contractor and worked for W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah for 18 years. 

“I attended Northeastern State University where I majored in geology,” Grayson said in a 2003 interview with the Cherokee Phoenix. “I left college to join the Army and served my country in Vietnam. Once I was home, I undertook a four-year apprenticeship as a journeyman plumber/pipe fitter leading to obtaining my contractor’s license.”

Grayson was a highly decorated veteran who had served with the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam. During his time in office, he was a staunch advocate for veterans and instituted the Cherokee National Medal of Patriotism, which is given monthly to veterans at Tribal Council meetings in appreciation of their service. He also led the charge to establish and construct the Cherokee Warrior Memorial and expanded services for Native veterans.

Grayson was a full-blood Cherokee and was widely known as a Cherokee nationalist who advocated for blood quantum rights, said his daughter Mary-Charlotte Grayson.

He was also an avid outdoorsmen and hunter who launched the Cherokee National Park system to conserve and promote the beautiful lands and lakes in the CN, his daughter added. He also started community group initiatives to protect and restore the CN’s most significant historic buildings and landmarks.

Being a tradesman, Grayson also expanded scholarships and programs for vocational education and trades jobs during his time in office.

“Securing the future for our children as Cherokee people and world citizens is the biggest challenge facing the Cherokee Nation today,” he said in 2003. “As I raised my own children, it was always a challenge to make sure they actively participated in Cherokee cultural activities and acquired the skills to live in an increasingly global world. My parents, who were fluent in Cherokee and English, taught us what it means to be Cherokee – to keep our word, to respect others, to listen, to be responsible for our families and to share what we have with others. These gifts belong to all Cherokees.”

Grayson and his late wife Gwen made their home in Cherokee County. Together they had five children: Joe III, Grant, Aaron, Stuart and Mary-Charlotte.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. on March 2 at the Sequoyah High School Gym in Tahlequah with Pastor DJ McCarter and Chief Smith officiating. A visitation will be held at 2 p.m. on March 1 at Reed-Culver Funeral Home with his family in attendance beginning at 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. He will be laid to rest at Tahlequah City Cemetery in Tahlequah. Online condolences for his family may be left at

Pallbearers for Joe are Webster Grayson, Noel Grayson, Jessie Grayson, Justin Grayson, Brandon Caruso, and Roy Lowery.He served as deputy chief from 2003-11 under former Principal Chief Chad Smith.


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