Soon after taking over the United Negro College Fund, which supports scholarship programs for African American students and more than three dozen private historically black colleges, Rep. Gray moved its headquarters from New York City to Fairfax County.
In 1999, he secured a $1 billion pledge from software mogul Bill Gates for scholarships to be administered by the fund, believed to be the largest single act of philanthropy in the history of American higher education. By the time he retired, Rep. Gray had raised more than $1.5 billion for the college fund.
His “Midas touch for fund raising,” the publication Black Issues in Higher Education noted, “propelled the UNCF from a modest charity into the nation’s wealthiest Black nonprofit — one that outstrips even such well-known groups as the NAACP and the Urban League.”
William Herbert Gray III was born Aug. 20, 1941, in Baton Rouge. His father served as the president of two colleges in Florida before moving the family to Philadelphia in 1949.
Rep. Gray was a 1963 graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and received a master of divinity degree in 1966 from the theological school at Drew University in Madison, N.J. He received a master of theology degree from Princeton University in 1970.
He was a pastor in Montclair, N.J., and taught at colleges in New Jersey and Philadelphia in the 1960s and early 1970s. Throughout his years in Congress, Rep. Gray often returned to his church in north Philadelphia to preach on Sundays.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton named Rep. Gray a special adviser to help oversee elections in Haiti. He later worked for several District-based lobbying firms, including his own company, Gray Global Advisors. He moved in recent years from Vienna to Coral Gables, Fla.
Survivors include his wife of 42 years, Andrea Dash Gray, and his mother, Hazel Yates Gray, both of Coral Gables; three sons, William H. Gray IV, Justin Y. Gray and Andrew D. Gray; and two grandchildren.
Rep. Gray was close to many leaders of the civil rights movement, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and sometimes was forcefully reminded of the social struggles faced by African Americans. In 1985, when Rep. Gray was House Budget Committee chairman, he and another black congressman were accosted by an armed guard who demanded to know what they were doing in the House parking garage.
“When I think of the indignities my parents bore, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” Rep. Gray told The Washington Post soon afterward. “My job as a black man is to knock down as many of those barriers as possible.”