William H. Gray III, pastor, former United Negro College Fund chief and a member of Congress who was the first Black to chair the House Budget Committee, died July 1 in London at the age of 71.

“Bill Gray was a trailblazer, proudly representing his beloved Philadelphia in Congress for over a decade as the first African-American to chair the Budget Committee and to serve as the Majority Whip,” President Obama said July 2 in remarks noting Gray’s death and legislative legacy.

Former aide William Epstein said Gray passed away suddenly while in London with one of his sons to attend the Wimbledon tennis championships.

Born in Baton Rouge, La. in 1941, he spent a portion of his childhood in Florida, where his father was president of Florida Normal and Industrial College in St. Augustine. He received his bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. Gray received degrees in divinity from Drew Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary.

Gray was elected to Congress in 1978 and became the first African American to chair the House budget committee and to serve as House majority whip.

Gray was involved in local, national and global issues. In the midst of the apartheid in South Africa, in 1985, he introduced a bill to halt loans and new investments in South Africa enforcing sanctions on imports and exports within the country.

“Bill’s extraordinary leadership, on issues from housing to transportation to supporting efforts that ended Apartheid in South Africa, made our communities, our country and our world a more just place,” continued Obama in a statement.

Gray’s bill served as a precursor to the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation issued a statement calling Gray a “man of integrity” who would sorely be missed.

“His dedicated leadership benefitted the African diaspora,” said CBCF Chairman Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.).

Gray was a pillar in the African American community focusing on the middle class and underserved Americans. A third generation pastor, he succeeded his father as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1972 and held that position until 2007, shuffling back and forth from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia to preach on Sundays.

Gray resigned the House seat to run the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in 1991. While leading the UNCF, he lead the organization to record high fundraising issuing thousands of scholarships to Black students around the country.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton named him special adviser on Haiti.

A. Shuanise Washington, CBCF president and chief executive officer said, “His commitment to educating young people is a cornerstone of our mission and was Bill’s passion.” 

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter ordered flags at all city buildings to fly at half-mast following the news of Gray’s passing.

Bob Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) called Gray a formidable political leader, brilliant businessman and also a true friend.

“Reverend Gray was passionate about helping others and his voice was highly respected in his community, in the halls of Congress, and around the world,” said Johnson in a statement. “Reverend Gray’s presence will truly be missed.”

Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey called Gray “a very special person.” He said Gray was loyal, committed, genuine, a coalition-builder and “creative in his thinking… strategic in his execution.”

“He understood how people and institutions work; and he was uniquely able to have them all work together.”

Messages of condolences and memories of Gray’s impact have circulated on social media outlets since his passing.

David Ollison wrote on Facebook, “A life well lived, a journey well traveled.”

“I will miss Rev William G Gray III,” wrote Leonard Jamison on Facebook. “He was a generous and committed mentor to me and many others at Franklin & Marshall College and throughout our lives. His legacy spans pulpits and politics, in Philadelphia and throughout the world. He always helped people, including me as a teenage boy from North Philly… Well done, Rev. Gray.”

A Celebration of Life for William H. Gray III:

11 A.M. Saturday, July 13, 2013
Bright Hope Baptist Church
12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to either:
William H. Gray Scholarship Fund,
Bright Hope Baptist Church,
Riverview School
551 Route 6A
East Sandwich, MA 02537
(A scholarship fund for underprivileged students of diverse backgrounds with learning disabilities. Please indicate “William H. Gray, III Scholarship Fund” on memo line of check)