Former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Philadelphia minister William Herbert Gray III is dead, according to a family spokesperson.
The spokesperson said Gray was attending the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London on Monday when he suddenly died. He was 71 years old. The spokesman said he had not been ill and that it appears he died from natural causes.
Born in Baton Rouge, La., Gray graduated from Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia back in 1959. In 1972, he became the senior minister at Bright Hope Baptist Church, also in Philly.
Church leaders from Bright Hope Baptist learned of Gray's death during an emergency meeting.
"We're talking about someone who not only became majority whip but was the Barack Obama of his day." said Reverand Kevin Johnson of Bright Hope Baptist.
"It's heartwrenching," said Brenda Willingham, who attends the church. "It hurts so bad. He's going to be truly missed by his congregation."
In 1978, Gray was elected as a Democrat to represent Philadelphia in the House of Representatives. He represented Pennsylvania’s 2nd congressional district until he resigned in 1991.
Gray was also the first African-American to chair the House Budget Committee and the first to serve as the Majority Whip.
"He was a big man doing a big job," former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode said. "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.
"He was a pathfinder," Goode said. "He proved that an African American can run without party support."
While chairman of the Committee on Budget, Gray introduced H.R. 1460, an influential anti-apartheid bill.
From 1991 to 2004, Gray served as president of the United Negro College Fund.
Gray leaves behind a wife and three sons. The family spokesperson says funeral services will soon be announced.
Mayor Michael Nutter ordered that all city flags at city buildings and facilities will be at half-staff on Tuesday, in honor of Gray.
“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. "Bill Gray was also a unifying force bringing together a multi-racial coalition to work in the best interests of all Philadelphians. Bill’s passing is a dramatic and significant loss for Philadelphia, the Commonwealth and the nation he served with honor and distinction."
Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke called Gray "one of the most significant figures in Philadelphia politics" in a released statement.
“From advocating for Philadelphia’s fair share of federal dollars to fighting against the injustice of apartheid in South Africa, Congressman Gray’s mark cannot be erased," Clarke said. "He helped make the renovation of 30th Street Station possible, and the sight of that magnificent structure should give us all reason to be thankful for his service."
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