By Kenneth Miller
Veteran Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congresswoman Karen Bass praised former United States Rep. William H. Gray III who died this week. A powerful and influential former Congressman, Gray was the first Black to become majority whip. He was 71.
"I am deeply saddened by the sudden passing of my friend and former colleague, Congressman Bill Gray," said Waters in a statement.
"Everyone loved him, and his legacy will continue to inspire all who knew him. I feel fortunate to have had the distinct honor of working with him over the years, as both a colleague and a friend. I join the people of Philadelphia and Americans across the nation in mourning the loss of an effective leader and passionate advocate of the public good. Bill Gray will certainly be missed."
Gray passed away suddenly Monday July 8 while in London with one of his sons to attend the Wimbledon tennis championships, according William Epstein, a former aide to Gray.
Born in Baton Rouge, La., Gray graduated from Franklin & Marshall College and Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, N.J., before being elected as a Democrat to Congress in 1978. He served as chairman of the 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 South Africa.
"Representative Gray's leadership was made apparent by being the first African American to serve as Chair of the Budget Committee and later as the Majority Whip," Bass said.
"He gained a reputation as a consensus builder and his legacy reminds us of the importance of working together for the good of country over politics."
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.
"During his tenure, Congressman Gray also wrote legislation that implemented economic sanctions South Africa during apartheid," said Waters.
"As our thoughts and prayers are with Nelson Mandela, we must remember and appreciate the fact that Congressman Gray spearheaded federal efforts to eradicate apartheid."
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.
"Representative Gray dedicated his life to serving members of his community in Philadelphia as well as poor and middle-class citizens across the country and the globe. From his years as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church to his chairmanship of the Democratic Caucus and his successful efforts to end apartheid in South Africa, Bill Gray showed true leadership and left an indelible mark on the world," offered Bass.
Gray also founded Gray Global Advisors, a business and consulting firm of which he was chairman emeritus at the time of his death.
His mother, his wife and three sons survive him.