William H. Gray III, the former congressman and former president of the United Negro College Fund, has died in London while attending the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. He was 71 years old.
For 35 years Rev. Gray served as pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. Both his father and grandfather were also pastors of the same church going back to 1925. Even while serving in Congress, William Gray III returned home each Sunday to address his congregation.
Gray was a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. but spent much of his childhood in Florida. He father was president of Florida Normal and Industrial College and what is now Florida A&M University, in Tallahassee. Gray earned a bachelor’s degree from Franklin and Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He held divinity degrees from Drew Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary, both in New Jersey.
Gray was elected to Congress in 1978 and quickly rose through the ranks. He was the first African American to serve as Democratic Whip, the third-highest-ranking leadership post in the House and he was the first African American to chair the House Budget Committee. He resigned from Congress in 1991 to lead the United Negro College Fund. In 1992, after serving for a brief time with the UNCF, William H. Gray III was featured in an interview for the inaugural issue of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Rev. Gray served as president of the UNCF for 13 years.