Remembering former Rep. William Gray

Updated
United Negro College Fund President William Gray receives a Four Freedoms award from Christopher duPont Roosevelt, left, and William vanden Heuvel, president...
United Negro College Fund President William Gray receives a Four Freedoms award from Christopher duPont Roosevelt, left, and William vanden Heuvel, president...
AP Photo/Dennis Cook

Let me finish tonight with the life and career of William Gray.

He was elected US Congressman from Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, the poorest area of the city. He’d been a major local figure as pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church out there on North Broad Street.

He was a man of good, solid ambition.

An African-American, he refused to consign himself to local politics but set out to win power across the full expanse of Capitol Hill. He ran for chairman of the Budget Committee. He won the position by winning the votes of white members from the south. He won those votes by, among other things, campaigning for those members among the black communities of their districts. He went on the road in order to win power back in the Congress itself. He knew how the bonds were forged and he forged them. He knew where he was needed and he went there - because it’s the only way to become a leader.

I was a friend of Bill Gray. So was the Speaker of the House who I served, Tip O’Neill. He let people know he was behind Bill when he made his move to chair the Budget Committee.

Well, the same drive and gumption that won him that influential chairmanship would also win Bill Gray the position of House Majority Whip, make him the first African-American to gain a position in the Congressional leadership.

After leaving Congress, Gray went on to head up the United Negro College Fund, raising billions of dollars for that organization.

Bill died yesterday in London watching Wimbledon with his son. He is survived by his equally impressive wife Andrea.

What a significant figure he cut in his time! He showed that the one way to rise is to seek to rise, that an essential to becoming a leader is to ask people to make you theirs.

Remembering former Rep. William Gray

Updated