Robert Grayson McGuire Jr., 71, the president of the McGuire Funeral Service, Inc., and a civic leader who was widely respected for his work in behalf of such causes as home rule for Washington, died of a heart ailment Tuesday at Georgetown University Hospital.
In 1980, Mr. McGuire received the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Award from the Washington Urban League. In accepting it, he said he had heard the claim that "if everything goes your way you become bored and really don't know what to do with yourself." He added that "it was impossible for this to happen to me" and then gave four reasons:
Like generations of his family before him, he was a resident of Washington, whose citizens had no vote until recently. He was black in a city that, by law, was segregated for more than half of his life. He was a Catholic in an area where Catholics are a minority. And he was a Republican in a town where Republicans usually are dwarfed in local affairs.
"You see, there was nothing to do but pound, in concert with others, on the walls of the maze in which we found ourselves and to scatter pebbles rather than bread crumbs along the way in a determined effort to not only better conditions for ourselves, but to point the way to our successors," Mr. McGuire said.
"Now, although we are not completely the captains of our own destiny, we are at least learning how to use the vote to better our condition. We are finding that ethnic discrimination, from whatever direction it comes, only weakens the fibre of any community. We are learning that religious prejudice is one of the most divisive of all forces wherever it occurs. And that, in the District of Columbia, we had better learn that we should not let political labels be the determining factor when we all need to pull together for the common good."
In the course of the career that brought him the Urban League honor, Mr. McGuire graduated from the old Dunbar High School and, in 1932, from Dartmouth College. He went to work in that year for McGuire's, which was founded by his father in 1912 and which now is a $500,000-a-year enterprise, and took graduate courses at Howard University. From 1959 until his death, he was president of the firm.
As a civic leader, Mr. McGuire was a member of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics from 1975 to 1977, a period when the board had much difficulty in providing accurate and timely election returns. He pressed for administrative and personnel changes that were credited with having helped to rectify the situation.
He was one of the organizers of the Voice of Informed Community Expression, which was formed following the riots that swept the city in 1968. He also was a former president of the Washington Urban League, a vice president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, a member of the executive board of the National Capital Area Boy Scouts, a director of the Citizens' Small Business Investment Corporation, a vice chairman of the Mayor's Economic Development Committee, a member of the national board of the Interracial Council for Business Opportunity, a director of the Washington Home Rule Committee and a member of the Committee to Support the Charter.
As a member of his church, Mr. McGuire was a secretary of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Men, a director of Catholic Charities, a member of the Interreligious Council on Race Relations and the executive committee of the Archbishop's Committee on Human Relations, and a member of the executive committee of the board of trustees of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In 1959, he received the "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" Medal from Pope John XXIII.
In an interview with The Washington Post published in January, Mr. McGuire asserted that despite his successes, he "wouldn't say everything has just fallen into place." He wondered whether what he had accomplished was due to his family's "stick-to-itness or dumb luck."
Mr. McGuire's survivors include his wife, Elinor Hackett McGuire, and a son, John R., both of Washington, and two grandchildren. Another son, Robert G. III, died in 1975.