Distinguished Alumnus, Congressman William H. Gray III '63 Dies in London

  • Distinguished alumnus and Trustee Emeritus William H. Gray III '63, right, participates in a forum on presidential politics with other alumni who also held prominent positions in the Democratic and Republican parties, during election season Oct. 4 in New York City. Seated to Gray's left is Trustee Stan Brand '70, who served as general counsel to the U.S. House of Representaties under Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. Gray died July 1 in London. (Photo by Eric Forberger)

UPDATE, July 3: Memorial service information has been included at the end of the article.

Distinguished alumnus and Trustee Emeritus William H. Gray III '63, the first African-American in the 20th century to become majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives and former president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, died July 1 in London while attending the Wimbledon tennis tournament with his son. He was 71.

At Franklin & Marshall, Gray's legacy includes the William H. Gray, Jr. Scholarship Program, which he established in 1990 in his father's name to provide financial aid to students from southeastern Pennsylvania. The College also created the Gray Scholars program in Gray's honor to provide need-based financial aid to F&M students from backgrounds typically underrepresented in higher education.

The third-highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991, Gray also served as president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, for which he raised more than $2.3 billion dollars for minority institutions and also managed a $40 million USAid grant for South Africa, according to a biography on his company website. He later founded and was chairman emeritus of Gray Global Advisers, a business and government consulting firm, and continued to serve as a minister and preacher in Philadelphia.

"Bill was a pillar of the Philadelphia community, a dedicated public servant, a Baptist preacher, and an inspirational mentor and friend to generations of African-American leaders," F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield said Tuesday in a note to the campus community reflecting on Gray's contributions. "In his devotion to his fellow men and women and to the good of the country, Bill exemplified the Franklin & Marshall ethos of excellence and human flourishing through service."

Born Aug. 20, 1941, in Baton Rouge, La., Gray moved to Philadelphia with his family when he was 8 years old. After graduating from Franklin & Marshall with a bachelor's degree in 1963, Gray received master's of arts degrees in divinity from Drew Theological Seminary and in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.

During his tenure in Congress, Gray helped shape U.S. foreign policy and contributed to policies on international aid and development. He spearheaded legislation that imposed economic sanctions against South Africa and later served as the special adviser to the president and to the secretary of state on Haiti during the Clinton administration.

Gray was a College trustee from 2004 to 2012, after an earlier term that started in 1986. He served on several committees, including trusteeship, communications and quality of campus life. As an alumnus and trustee, Gray "found ways to support and mentor new generations of leaders growing up after him, particularly in the African-American community," Porterfield said.

The Gray Scholars program named in his honor reflected the values he lived.

"In addition to financial aid, Gray Scholars receive special opportunities for leadership development and support for activities that cultivate their character while nourishing their intellectual gifts," Porterfield said.

  • William H. Gray III '63, as pictured in the 1963 edition of the F&M yearbook, "Oriflamme." (F&M Archives)

Gray's involvement in politics and activism flourished at F&M. He had a close relationship to the late Martin Luther King Jr. and drove King to the College when the civil rights leader spoke on campus in the early 1960s. Later, on the advice of his mentor, the now-deceased Professor of Government Sid Wise, Gray accepted an internship with his local congressman, whom he subsequently unseated in an election.

Gray maintained a passion for politics throughout his life, and shared that with the F&M community.

During the presidential election seasons in 2008 and 2012, Gray participated in forums on presidential politics with other alumni who also held prominent positions in the Democratic and Republican parties. At an Oct. 4 forum in New York City, Gray, with Trustees Ken Duberstein '65, P'09, P'12, Ken Mehlman '88 and Stan Brand '70, discussed the outcome of the first presidential debate between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Gray noted that Romney had gained ground during the debate, but he questioned whether the Republican challenger could maintain momentum without a major shift in the GOP's overall election strategy.

  • William H. Gray III '63

"This may be the last Republican hurrah on the arguments they have been using for the last 50 years," Gray said at the forum. "The politics of 1980, they will not fly in 2012 in terms of the demographics."

Gray's insights and contributions often were heralded by state and national leaders. In 2012, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania honored Gray in a speech on the Senate floor to commemorate Black History Month, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in a statement posted on his website Tuesday said of Gray, "In the chess match of politics, he knew how to get things done."

In expressing condolences to Gray's wife, Andrea Dash Gray, whom Gray married in 1971, and sons Andrew, Justin and William IV, Porterfield described Gray as "a remarkable man, both humble and strong."

"The world is a better place for his work in it," Porterfield said. "We are grateful for his life and will miss him deeply."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 13, at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 1601 N. 12 St. (at Cecil B. Moore Avenue) in Philadelphia.

Story 12/4/2014

President Porterfield Commits to Action at White House...

As part of the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, Franklin & Marshall President Daniel...

Read More
Story 9/22/2014

Seek Untapped STEM Talent, Porterfield Tells Leaders at...

Eight months after playing a lead role at a special White House summit on access to higher...

Read More
Story 9/16/2014

$5 Million Lehman Endowment Gift to Support Wrestling for...

News from Franklin & Marshall College FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Cass Cliatt (717) 291-...

Read More