William Gray III, Black Congressman Who Broke Ceiling, Dies

William H. Gray III, a Baptist minister and Democrat from Philadelphia who in six terms in Congress became the first black party whip, the No. 3 leadership post, and first black chairman of the House Budget Committee, has died. He was 71.

He died yesterday while in London with one of his sons to attend the Wimbledon tennis tournament, the Associated Press reported, citing William Epstein, a former aide.

A third-generation pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia since 1972, he was elected in 1978 to represent Pennsylvania’s second congressional district, located in and around Philadelphia. During 12 years in the House, he pressed for economic sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime and, as budget chairman during President Ronald Reagan’s second term, helped Democrats and Republicans reach consensus on spending.

“He was a leader with huge impact for middle class and under-served Americans,” Democrat Chaka Fattah, who now holds the seat, said today in a statement. “His dedicated leadership benefited the people of Philadelphia. He never lost sight of the needs of those in the urban community.”

Fattah said Gray helped low- and middle-income residents find places to live through the nonprofit Union Housing Corp.

Sudden Departure

Gray’s rise to Democratic whip brought talk of him becoming the first black House speaker, and perhaps seeking the presidency. Then, at the peak of his power, he resigned in 1991 to become president of the United Negro College Fund.

“My concept of power is different from other people’s,” he said in a 1991 interview with the New York Times. “I come from a background of ministry and education in which power is the ability to impact on people’s lives.”

James Clyburn of South Carolina became the second black Democratic House whip, from 2007 to 2011.

Gray was chairman emeritus of Gray Global Advisors LLC, a Washington-based consulting firm. He was serving on the boards of Dell Inc., as chairman of its governance and nominating committee; Pfizer Inc., as chairman of the corporate governance committee; and Prudential Financial Inc. and Prudential Insurance Company of America, as chairman of the corporate governance and business ethics committees of both companies. He served on the board of JPMorgan Chase & Co. from 2002 to 2012.

‘Highly Respected’

“Bill was a highly respected member of our board and a leader in all aspects of his life -- a preacher, a legislator, a businessman and a board director,” John Strangfeld, Prudential’s chairman and chief executive officer, said today in a statement.

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell, said in a statement that Gray “brought a unique and distinctive perspective on our business and our industry.”

William Herbert Gray III was born on Aug. 20, 1941, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and attended high school in Philadelphia.

He received a bachelor’s degree in 1963 from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a master’s in divinity degree in 1966 from Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey, and a master’s in theology in 1970 from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.

With his wife, the former Andrea Dash, he had three sons: William IV, Justin and Andrew.

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