William H. Gray III, Pastor and Lawmaker, Dies at 71
Published: July 2, 2013
William H. Gray III, a third-generation Baptist minister from Philadelphia who won a seat in Congress in 1978 and rose to become the highest-ranking black lawmaker in the country, died on Monday in London. He was 71.
He died while attending the Wimbledon tennis tournament with his son Andrew, said William Epstein, who was Mr. Gray’s communications director in Congress. Mr. Epstein said that Mr. Gray had not been ill and that the cause was not immediately clear.
Mr. Gray, who served in the House from 1979 to 1991, was a persistent voice for equal rights, education and services for the poor, in the United States and abroad. He pressed for more economic aid for Africa and was a leading critic of South African apartheid, helping shape United States policy, including sanctions, against that country. He led the House Budget Committee in the 1980s, and his fellow Democrats selected him as majority whip in 1989, the third-ranking House leadership position.
Two years later, Mr. Gray surprised many people when he resigned to become president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund. He went on to lead the nonprofit group to record fund-raising.
“Bill Gray was a trailblazer,” President Obama said in a statement, “the first African-American to chair the Budget Committee and to serve as the majority whip.”
Six years before he was elected to Congress, Mr. Gray became pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, and he would serve as pastor for 35 years. He succeeded his father, William H. Gray Jr., who preached there for 22 years, and his grandfather, William H. Gray Sr., who served from 1925 until his death in 1949. While in Congress, he would return to Philadelphia on weekends to preach.
Mr. Gray had not held elected office when he first ran for a House seat, in 1976, challenging the longtime incumbent, Robert N. C. Nix Sr., in the Democratic primary. Mr. Gray, who had once worked in Mr. Nix’s office, lost by fewer than 400 votes. Two years later, after accusing Mr. Nix of losing touch with his district, he won easily.
Mr. Gray was frustrated in his first years in Congress, giving up his seat on the Budget Committee in 1981 after complaining that Democrats were more interested in making deals with Republicans than in spending money on social services.
“It was clear that the Democratic leadership felt they did not want or need the liberal vote,” he said in an interview with Newsday in 1985.
But Mr. Gray returned to the committee in 1983 and eventually became known as a skilled negotiator and consensus-builder. When he became budget chairman, in 1985, some lawmakers asked whether a black representative from a district that was 80 percent black could see beyond the needs of his constituents.
“I face what all blacks go through,” Mr. Gray said in The New York Times in 1985. “People see your skin before they see anything else, and sometimes that’s all they see. But you’ve got to keep on truckin’ and hope you have the chance to demonstrate excellence.”
He added, “If I do an effective job as chairman, I will break down a barrier and demonstrate that race is not an obstacle to heading a major financial committee or winning a leadership post.”
William Herbert Gray III was born in Baton Rouge, La., on Aug. 20, 1941. He spent part of his childhood in Florida, where his father was president of Florida Normal and Industrial College, in St. Augustine, and later Florida A&M College, now university, in Tallahassee. The congressman received his bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa., and divinity degrees from Drew Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary. He worked as a minister at Union Baptist Church in Montclair, N.J., for much of the 1960s while teaching at several colleges.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Mr. Gray as a special adviser on Haiti.
In addition to his son Andrew, survivors include his wife, the former Andrea Dash; two more sons, William IV and Justin; his mother, Hazel; and several grandchildren.
Late in his Congressional career, some news reports raised questions about Mr. Gray’s financial arrangements, including those with his church, but the F.B.I. said the congressman was not the target of an investigation and he was never charged. Some critics speculated that the questions prompted his resignation, or that Mr. Gray wanted to make more money to pay for the education of his growing sons.
“If I wanted money, I would not have become a preacher; I wanted mission,” Mr. Gray said in his first sermon after announcing his resignation, in June 1991. “If I wanted money, I would not have become an educator; I wanted mission. If I wanted money, I would not have gone into public service; I wanted mission. I have never been motivated by money. The reason I am changing careers to be head of the United Negro College Fund is because of its mission.”
According to the fund’s Web site, Mr. Gray raised more than $2.3 billion while he led the fund, from 1991 to 2004.
William Herbert Gray III (August 20, 1941 – July 1, 2013) was an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who represented Pennsylvania's 2nd congressional district from 1979 to 1991. He also served as Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget from 1985 to 1989 and House Majority Whip from 1989 to 1991. He resigned from Congress in September of that year to become president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, a position he held until 2004.
As an African-American, he was the fourth highest-ranking member of the House at the time of his resignation and a minister in Philadelphia. He was co-founder of the government lobbying and advisory firm,Gray Loeffler LLC, headquartered in Washington D.C.
Gray was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, where his father was president of Florida Normal (later Florida Memorial) College, and in North Philadelphia where he graduated from Simon Gratz High School. He attended Franklin and Marshall College, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1963. He went on to obtain a master's in divinity from Drew Theological Seminary in 1966 and a similar degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1970. Gray received a L.H.D. from Bates College in 1994.
In 1972, Gray succeeded his father as the senior minister at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia. He was elected as a Democrat to represent Philadelphia in the United States House of Representativesin 1978. He represented Pennsylvania's 2nd congressional district in the House of Representatives from 1978 until his resignation on September 11, 1991. He was the first African-American to chair the House Budget Committee and also the first to serve as the Majority Whip (1989–1991). As chairman of the Committee on Budget, Gray introduced H.R. 1460, an anti-Apartheid bill that prohibited loans and new investment in South Africa and enforced sanctions on imports and exports with South Africa. This bill was an instrumental precursor to the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 (H.R. 4868).
Gray resigned from Congress in 1991 to serve as President of the United Negro College Fund from 1991 to 2004. The move was considered a complete surprise and prompted questions as to why he had done so. There was widespread speculation that he had been the subject of an investigation into alleged campaign finance irregularities and a grand jury investigation into his church's financial dealings. He was reported to have struck a deal with Republican Dick Thornburgh, the United States Attorney General and former Governor of Pennsylvania, that he would not run in the U.S. Senate special election in Pennsylvaniaand in return Thornburgh would would drop the investigation into him. Thornburgh went on to run in the special election in November 1991 but lost in an upset to Democrat Harris Wofford.
Gray served as a special adviser to the President and Secretary of State for Haitian affairs in 1994. He was named to the PoliticsPA list of "Pennsylvania's Top Political Activists."
Outside of politics he was also a businessman who has been a Director at Dell from 2000. Gray was a director of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Prudential Financial Inc., Rockwell International Corporation, Visteon Corporation and Pfizer. He retired from Bright Hope Baptist Church in 2007 and was succeeded by Kevin R. Johnson, former Assistant Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York.
Gray was married to the former Andrea Dash; they have three sons, William IV, Justin and Andrew. Gray was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Gray died on July 1, 2013 in London, while attending the Wimbledon tennis tournament with his son Andrew. Gray's death came suddenly and no cause of death has been given. He was 71.