ABOVE PHOTO: Congressman William Gray III appears in front of the nation’s Capitol Building in 1989.
(Moneta Sleet, Jr./Ebony Collection via AP Images)
Remembering a trailblazer–Rev. William H. Gray, III (1941-2013)
By Ron Todt
Former U.S. Rep. William H. Gray III, who rose to influential positions in Congress and was the first black to become majority whip, died Monday at 71.
Gray passed away suddenly Monday while in London with one of his sons to attend the Wimbledon tennis championships, said William Epstein, a former aide to Gray.
“Bill Gray was a trailblazer, proudly representing his beloved Philadelphia in Congress for over a decade as the first African-American to chair the Budget Committee and to serve as the Majority Whip. Bill’s extraordinary leadership, on issues from housing to transportation to supporting efforts that ended Apartheid in South Africa, made our communities, our country and our world a more just place. Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathies to Bill’s family, especially to his wife Andrea and their three sons.”
–President Barack Obama
Born in Baton Rouge, La., Gray graduated from Franklin & Marshall College and Drew Theological Seminary in Jersey City, N.J., before being elected as a Democrat to Congress in 1978. He served as chairman of the powerful budget committee and became the first African-American in the 20th century to become majority whip of the U.S. House. During his tenure, he authored legislation implementing economic sanctions against apartheid in South Africa.
In 1991, he surprised colleagues by resigning to run the United Negro College Fund, for which a biography on his company website says he raised more than $2.3 billion for minority institutions. In 1994, President Bill Clinton tapped him as a temporary special adviser on Haiti.
PHOTO: The Rev. William H. Gray III hugs a parishioner following services at the Bright Hope Baptist Church, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007, in Philadelphia. Gray, a former Congressman who was active in the civil rights movement, is retiring from the ministry after 35 years.
(AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)
Succeeding his father as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in 1972, he continued in that position until 2007. Epstein said he commuted back to the city on weekends to deliver Sunday sermons.
Gray also founded Gray Global Advisors, a business and consulting firm of which he was chairman emeritus at the time of his death.
Mayor Michael Nutter hailed him as “a transformative leader among leaders” and ordered flags at all city buildings to fly at half-staff beginning Tuesday.
“He knew guys on the corner, and he knew Nelson Mandela and everyone in between,” Nutter said in a statement. “He created a political organization that for decades has continued to be one of the most powerful, productive and progressive forces in the social and political life of our city’s history.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called Gray “a tireless advocate for the people of Philadelphia and a trailblazer for a new generation of African American elected officials.”
“Bill Gray was a friend and a mentor. With his unyielding spiritual faith and a deep dedication to public service, Bill made an indelible mark on both the history of Philadelphia and the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a proud leader and representative of the people of Philadelphia and a staunch advocate for the middle class and those less fortunate in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
In the House, Bill was the first African American to serve as Chairman of the Budget Committee and the first to rise to the rank of Majority Whip. He fought against the injustice of apartheid in South Africa and pressed America and Congress to fight for its downfall. Following his service in Congress, he moved into a new phase of public service as President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, where he helped send more young people to college.
I am deeply grateful for Bill’s guidance and support early in my career. He was an important mentor and I am honored that he was my friend. My heartfelt condolences go to his wife, Andrea, his family and his loved ones.”
–U.S. Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz (PA-13)
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., credited Gray with helping to develop housing for low- and middle-income residents through the nonprofit Union Housing Corp. and with providing federal resources for renovations that have made the city’s Amtrak station “one of the best, most efficiently run train facilities in the nation.”
“And finally, Bill Gray was my friend — he was the very embodiment of how to turn the power and platform of the House of Representatives for true public service,” Fattah said.
He is survived by his mother, his wife and three sons.
Memorial service for Rev. Gray
The Celebration of Life Memorial Service for the Reverend William H. Gray, III will be held at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 12th Street & Cecil B. Moore Avenue on Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 11AM. Please continue to pray for Rev. Gray’s mother, wife, sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.