Former Pennsylvania Rep. William Herbert Gray III passed away in England last week. An avid tennis fan, Gray was in England to attend Wimbledon. He collapsed while attending a match with his youngest son, Andrew. Gray was 71 years old.
Gray was married to Andrea Dash, with whom he had three sons: William IV, Justin and Andrew. Gray was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
Gray represented Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District from 1979 until 1991. He won office in 1978 by campaigning with a coalition of progressive-minded Black activists in the Philadelphia area; these progressives were able to win office outside of the traditional local Democratic Party, which, at the time, paid little attention to the needs of African-Americans in Philadelphia. At the time, the Baton Rouge, La.-born Gray was a pastor with a master’s in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Once in office, Gray served as chairman of the House Committee on the Budget from 1985 to 1989 and House majority whip from 1989 to 1991. At the time that he served as majority whip, Gray held the highest position to be occupied by an African-American elected official in the 20th century.
Many remember that one of his most important moments was when, as chairman of the Committee on Budget, Gray introduced H.R. 1460, the “Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985, a bill to express the opposition of the United States to the system of Apartheid in South Africa.” Gray’s bill was designed to help prohibit new corporate investment in South Africa and to put a stop to loans that buttressed the South African government.
Part of the bill’s language included declaring “that it shall be U.S. policy to impose economic sanctions against South Africa if, within 12 months but not later than January 1, 1987, significant progress has not been made toward ending apartheid.” It also directed President Ronald Reagan “to develop through negotiations appropriate multilateral economic sanctions against South Africa … [and] requires the president to report to the Congress on such negotiations.” In 1995, Gray was presented with the Tutu Human Rights Award by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the legislative work he did championing anti-apartheid.
After resigning from Congress in September 1991, Gray took on the role of president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund. He famously garnered a pledge of $1 billion to the fund from Microsoft software tycoon Bill Gates. Gray continued to raise funds for the UNCF with a focus on corporate donations while facing some acrimony from a good portion of the long-term staff at UNCF until he left the organization in 2004. Gray would later move on to become a co-founder of the Washington, D.C.-based government lobbying and advisory firm Gray Loeffler LLC.