Congressman William H. Gray III died in London at the age of 71 on Monday.
William Epstein, a former aide to Gray, said that he was overseas with one of his sons for the Wimbledon tennis tournament when he passed.
Gray became the first African-American majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 20th century. He formulated legislation to move forward with economic sanctions against South Africa.
He eventually resigned from the House in 1991 to administer the United Negro College Fund, and $2.3 billion was raised during his term. Three years later, he was appointed by Bill Clinton as a temporary special advisor on Haiti.
In his early years, the Baton Rouge native attended Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey.
In 1972, Gray became next in line after his father to serve as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist church. He held the position for 30 years. He was elected to congress as a democrat in 1978.
Many of Gray’s colleagues and friends had kind things to say about congressman.
“He knew guys on the corner, and he knew Nelson Mandela and everyone in between,” said Michael Nutter, Philadelphia Mayor. “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 cities history.”
U.S. Senator Bob Casey referred to Gray as a major supporter of people in the community and said that Gray set the standard the next generation of African American elected officials.
U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah commended Gray for playing a role in the development of low-income housing through Union Housing Corp. Also for using federal resources to improve Philadelphia’s Amtrak station making it “one of the best, most efficiently run 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,” said Fattah.
The NAACP released a statement today, saying the organization was deeply saddened by the loss of Gray and calling him a vocal advocate for civil rights throughout his career, including his tenure in Congress.
“Bill Gray blazed a heroic path for national black political leadership a generation before Obama broke through as president,” saidNAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “He went on to strengthen the UNCF at a critical moment for HCBUs. His visionary presence will be sorely missed.”
Gray is survived by his wife and three sons.