By: Dan Wing
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A former Philadelphia Congressman and Preacher loved and respected by many around the world has died. Bill Gray passed from natural causes at the age of 71.
Gray was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1978 and served until 1991. In that time he became the first African American to achieve chairmanship of the House Budget Committee. But Mayor Michael Nutter says there was much more to Bill Gray than just politics.
“What a gentleman. He’s a gentleman and a scholar. He was a minister. Ministered real people every day as he served at Bright Hope Baptist Church. And as an elected official, he was a model elected official that so many of us wanted to emulate,” said Nutter.
State Senator Vincent Hughes says Gray was a man who commanded respect.
“When he walked into a room, it was a wide swath he carried with him because of the breadth of his service,” said Hughes.
After ending his service as a Congressman, Gray went on to lead the United Negro College Fund from 1991 to 2004, helping the organization to new heights according to U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah.
“As the leader of UNCF where he raised more money in one year than they had raised in the six decades prior to, when he got Bill Gates to write a $1 billion check to send young people to college,” said Fattah.
Both Congressman Fattah and Hughes fondly remember Gray’s fight against apartheid, passing legislation to limit funding to South Africa.
Throughout all of this, Gray still found the time to be the Pastor at Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. It’s the same church his father once led.
Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clark released a statement calling Bill Gray one of the most significant figures in Philadelphia’s political history:
“Congressman Bill Gray was one of the most significant figures in Philadelphia politics. I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing.
“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. 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.
“On a personal note, I always appreciated his support for the families and communities of North Philadelphia. My deepest condolences go to Congressman Gray’s wife, Andrea, their sons, and the rest of their family.”
U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) released the following statement on Monday evening:
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Congressman Bill Gray. Bill continued his father’s ministry by serving as Pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church. As a member of Congress, he was a tireless advocate for the people of Philadelphia and a trailblazer for a new generation of African American elected officials. Bill Gray was the first African American to serve as Chairman of the Budget Committee and Majority Whip. His leadership in Congress against apartheid in South Africa is felt today in a country where a free people live in a thriving democracy. After his career in Congress, he played a major role in advancing diversity in higher education at the United Negro College Fund where he helped countless young people achieve the dream of an education. As part of our celebration of black history month in 2012, I paid tribute to his life of service. My thoughts and prayers are with Congressman Gray’s family.”
Mayor Nutter also released a statement:
“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.”
Starting Tuesday, Mayor Nutter has ordered that all City flags at all City buildings and facilities will be at half-staff, in honor of U.S. Rep. Gray.