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Much of Philadelphia and the nation are mourning the passing of former Congressman William H. Gray this week. Gray, the first African American to chair the House Budget Committee and the first to serve as majority whip in the House of Representatives, died Monday in London. The Baton Rouge, La., native was 71.
A spokesperson said Gray was attending the Wimbledon Tennis Championships when he suddenly died. The spokesman said he had not been ill and that it appears he died from natural causes.
President Obama, like many others, called Gray a “trailblazer” in a statement.
“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,” Obama said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) heralded the congressman as “a giant.”
“He was a leader and a trailblazer, a proud representative of the people of Philadelphia, a man who left his mark on the history of his city.”
“I offer my condolences and deepest sympathies to the family of Former Congressman Bill Gray during this difficult time,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.). “Bill was the very essence of a public servant and a tireless advocate who understood that the capacity to impact lives doesn’t just reside in the title or position you hold.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif,) wrote: “I am deeply saddened by the sudden passing of my friend and former colleague, Congressman Bill Gray. He was loved by everyone, and his legacy will continue to inspire all who knew him.”
“He was a big man doing a big job,” former Phila-delphia Mayor Wilson Goode told NBC 10 in that city. “He knew how to get stuff done.” Goode, who was Philly’s first African American mayor, says Gray paved the way for him and other African Americans in politics.
Mayor Michael Nutter ordered that all city flags at city buildings and facilities will be at half-staff on Tuesday, in honor of Gray, the station said.
“I am truly stunned, saddened and hurt by the loss of this great man who was so influential in my own growth as a public servant as well as dozens of other Philadelphians, particularly in the African American community,” Nutter said.
“Gray, a six-term congressman who represented Philadelphia, resigned from Congress in 1991 to serve as the president of the United Negro College Fund. He was a co-founder of the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Gray Loeffler LLC, and he continued in the family business, serving as the pastor at Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, where his father once led the congregation,” according to The Hill, a blog written by Justin Sink.
Gray leaves behind a wife and three sons. The family spokesperson says funeral services will soon be announced.