Former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Philadelphia minister William Herbert Gray III is dead, according to a family spokesman.
Gray was attending the Wimbledon Championships in London on Monday when he suddenly died. He was 71 years old. The spokesman said he had not been ill and that it appears he died from natural causes.
Born in Baton Rouge, La., Gray graduated from Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia back in 1959. In 1972, he became the senior minister at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
In 1978, he was elected as a Democrat to represent Philadelphia in the House of Representatives. He represented Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District until he resigned in 1991.
Gray was also the first African-American to chair the House Budget Committee and the first to serve as the majority whip.
While chairman of the Committee on Budget, Gray introduced H.R. 1460, an influential anti-apartheid bill.From 1991 to 2004, Gray served as president of the United Negro College Fund.
Gray leaves behind a wife and three sons. The family spokesman says funeral services will be announced.
Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke called Gray “one of the most significant figures in Philadelphia politics” in a released statement.
“From advocating for Philadelphia’s fair share of federal dollars to fighting against the injustice of apartheid in South Africa, Congressman Gray’s mark cannot be erased,” Clarke said. “He helped make the renovation of 30th Street Station possible, and the sight of that magnificent structure should give us all reason to be thankful for his service.”
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Both Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who currently represents the Second District, issued statements upon hearing of Gray’s death. Nutter ordered that “all City flags at all City buildings and facilities will be at half-staff, starting Tuesday.”
“The people of Philadelphia and all across America have lost a great friend and advocate. Congressman Gray served with extraordinary distinction in the Congress. He was a leader with huge impact for middle class and under-served Americans.
“His dedicated leadership benefited the people of Philadelphia. He never lost sight of the needs of those in the urban community. Through one of his non-profits, the Union Housing Corporation, he was instrumental in developing housing for low and middle residents. He was committed to making sure that Philadelphia residents had access to quality, reliable transportation. Amtrak’s 30th Street Station is one of the best, most efficiently run train facilities in the nation because of Gray’s commitment to investing federal resources in America’s infrastructure.
“As our thoughts and prayers in recent days have been directed toward South Africa and Nelson Mandela, it is appropriate to remember today that Bill Gray performed a major and valuable role in reshaping American policy toward dismantling the apartheid state.
“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. Bill was a man of unshakeable faith, a towering spiritual leader for Philadelphians through his lifelong commitment to the Bright Hope Baptist Church. His strong, powerful and influential voice will be missed in Philadelphia and around the nation.
“Our prayers go out to Bill’s wife Andrea and his children as they mourn their sudden loss.”
“Bill Gray was a transformative leader among leaders, a man called to the ministry and public service who also called generations of young people to political action and elective office. He knew guys on the corner, and he knew Nelson Mandela and everyone in between.
“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. He helped make our City great by moving politics and governance from the muck and mire of mere political transactions to principled action, whether in the form of community development, opposition to apartheid or identifying and supporting new leaders.
“As Budget Chairman in the U.S. House of Representatives, Bill Gray utilized his position to influence public policy and federal spending unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times. In the chess match of politics, he knew how to get things done. He could charm you or twist your arm as needed, but it was always in the best interests of the constituents he served.
“I am truly stunned, saddened and hurt by the loss of this great man who was so influential in my own growth as a public servant as well as dozens of other Philadelphians, particularly in the African American community, but Bill Gray was also a unifying force bringing together a multi-racial coalition to work in the best interests of all Philadelphians. Bill’s passing is a dramatic and significant loss for Philadelphia, the Commonwealth and the nation he served with honor and distinction. On behalf of all Philadelphians, I send the City’s deepest condolences to Bill’s wife, Andrea, their three sons and the entire Gray family.”