Remembering U.S. Rep. William Gray T’66

Former U.S. Congressman William Herbert Gray III, who graduated in 1966 from Drew’s Theological School before beginning his career as a trailblazing figure in government and the Baptist church, passed away suddenly on Monday, July 1, 2013, at age 71. A national outpouring of remembrances noted his service as the first African American to chair the House budget committee and the first to serve as majority whip, both while representing Pennsylvania’s 2nd congressional district from 1978 to 1991.

From 1972 to 2007, Gray also followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as senior minister of the 3,000-member Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where he is remembered for his dynamic spiritual leadership and unfailing attendance despite a demanding congressional schedule.

Drew President Vivian A. Bull said Gray’s leadership—along with his personal friendship—was what prompted her to invite him to deliver a public address at her inauguration as president of Linfield College in Oregon, where she served until 2004.

“He not only spoke of leadership,” says Bull. “He embodied it.”

As a member of Congress, Gray, a Democrat, was known as a dogged advocate for initiatives in Philadelphia, such as the renovation of the 30th Street station and the construction of low-income housing. He was also a dominant voice for American sanctions against apartheid in South Africa.

In 1991, he became president of the United Negro College Fund, where he was credited with raising more that $2 billion to fund higher education for minority students. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed him special adviser on Haiti.

At Drew, Gray, who had earned a master’s in divinity, served the university as a trustee from 1988 to 1996. In 1982, the university recognized him for his service to the church and the nation with an honorary doctorate.

In 1998, he and several friends endowed the William H. Gray, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund in memory of his father. The scholarship supports ethnic minorities in the Theological School who show extraordinary promise in their preparation for ministry.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter ordered that all flags be flown at half-staff the day after Gray died. Plans for a memorial at Drew will be announced as soon as available.—Michael Bressman