Kenneth J. Gray

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Kenneth J. Gray
Kenneth J. Gray.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 25th district
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1963
Preceded by C. W. Bishop
Succeeded by District abolished
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 21st district
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by Peter F. Mack, Jr.
Succeeded by Edward R. Madigan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 24th district
In office
January 3, 1973 – December 31, 1974
Preceded by Melvin Price
Succeeded by Paul Simon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 22nd district
In office
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1989
Preceded by Paul Simon
Succeeded by Glenn Poshard
Personal details
Born (1924-11-14)November 14, 1924
West Frankfort, Illinois
Died July 12, 2014(2014-07-12) (aged 89)
Herrin, Illinois

Kenneth James Gray (November 14, 1924 – July 12, 2014) was a U.S. Representative from Illinois.

Early life and education

Born in West Frankfort, Illinois, Gray attended the West Frankfort and Pope County elementary schools and graduated from Frankfort Community High School.[1] At age 13 Gray started a business -– Gray’s Roller Rink -– at which he performed almost every job alone, from floor manager to concession stand cashier to janitor. At age 16, he became an auctioneer, and at age 18 he became the owner of the Gray Motors car dealership, which he operated until 1954.[2]

World War II

General Eisenhower addresses soldiers preparing for D-Day assault. According to Gray's biographers, he is the soldier in visored cap (not helmet) at far left.

In January, 1943 Gray enlisted in the Army Air Forces for World War II.[3] He served as a crew chief with the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa, with the combat engineers of the Fifth Army in Italy, and again with the Twelfth Air Force in Southern France and elsewhere in Europe.[4] Gray was an aircraft crew chief and attained the rank of first sergeant before being discharged in December 1945.[5]

According to the authors of Pass the Plate, a 2009 biography of Gray, he was at the Greenham Common air base in June, 1944 and was assigned as Dwight D. Eisenhower's driver when Eisenhower met with Company E, 502nd Infantry Regiment shortly before the unit boarded planes and departed for the assault on Normandy. The authors also indicate that Gray can be seen in the well-known photo of Eisenhower speaking with soldiers including First Lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel.[6]

Gray's awards included the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal.[7]

Post-World War II

After the war Gray was active in the American Legion, and was commander of the Southern Illinois region. In addition he served as Vice President of the Illinois Jaycees, and he credited these experiences with giving him the contacts and name recognition to mount a race for Congress.[8][9]

Gray also completed training as an airplane and helicopter pilot and operated an air service at Benton, Illinois from 1948 to 1952.[10]

In 1950 Gray campaigned for a seat in the U.S. House. He lost the Democratic nomination to Kent E. Keller, who lost the general election to incumbent C. W. Bishop.[11][12] Gray opted not to run again in 1952.[13]

In 1953 Gray was one of the founders of the Walking Dog Foundation for the Blind, a charitable organization to provide guide dogs to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.[14]


Gray was the successful Democratic nominee against Bishop in 1954 and won election to the 84th Congress. He was reelected nine times, and served from January 3, 1955, until his resignation on December 31, 1974. In Congress, Gray eventually decided to stand out from his peers by adopting out of the ordinary clothing and hairstyles, and became known for his flamboyant appearance, including permed hair dyed bright blonde or red, and unusual attire, such as white sport coats and shoes, bright suits, and wide, colorful patterned bow ties. In a deadpan joke frequently repeated by Glenn Poshard, when Poshard met Jim Wright in 1989 and introduced himself as Gray's successor, Speaker Wright joked about Gray's appearance by looking the conservatively dressed Poshard up and down and saying "I didn't know you could buy a pinstriped suit in southern Illinois."[15]

Gray was known as the primary backer of converting Washington, D.C.'s Union Station into the National Visitor Center for the United States Bicentennial.[16] The center was open in time for the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations, but was plagued with poor design and workmanship, and cost overruns. It was closed again after the Bicentennial, and in the late 1980s it was redeveloped again to serve as a train station and retail center.[17]

He was also well known as an advocate of federal spending for his district, and used his post as a senior member of the Public Works Committee to obtain approval of projects including interstate highways, dams, housing, and the Marion Penitentiary. Dubbed the "Prince of Pork" for his securing of over $7 billion for projects in his area,[18] Gray countered by pointing out that the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the dam that created Rend Lake saved hundreds of millions of dollars in property losses by limiting damage during floods of the Big Muddy River, saying "If that is pork, pass me the plate, because I'll take another heaping serving."[19]

Gray was an amateur magician and performed for civic groups and youth organizations in his district. In a 1956 House speech on the creation of the proposed Interstate Highway System, Gray carried a bouquet of red roses to the lectern to illustrate the "rosy" prospects for the road network as originally conceived. As he described the lobbyists and special interests who were "killing" the program piecemeal, Gray dramatized the point by snapping flowers off each stem of the bouquet until all the blossoms were gone. Then, as Gray reached the conclusion of his speech—that the lobbyists were going to fail and that the prospects for the Interstate Highway bill looked "rosy" again—white roses bloomed from the bare stems, and Gray earned an ovation from his colleagues.[20] In 1966 he appeared as a guest challenger on the TV game show I've Got a Secret. Introduced as a magician and pilot, he successfully stumped the panel, which did not guess that he was a member of Congress.[21]

Gray resided on a houseboat while serving in Congress.[22] In the mid-1970s there were several media accounts indicating that he had employed Elizabeth Ray and was involved in a lifestyle of wild parties and sex involving members of Congress and Congressional staff members. Gray denied wrongdoing, but was not a candidate for reelection in 1974 to the 94th Congress.[23] He was succeeded by Paul Simon.[24]

Return to Congress

In 1984 Simon ran for the United States Senate.[25] Gray ran again for the U.S. House and was elected to the 99th and 100th Congresses (January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1989).[26] As with the later years of his first tenure, during his return to Congress Gray was commended for using his knowledge of parliamentary procedure and House rules to frequently preside over the House, and members of both parties praised him for his tact and fairness.[27][28][29]

Gray indicated that he was not running for reelection in 1988 because of a muscular disorder caused by a tick bite during a congressional visit to Brazil.[30]

Retirement and death

In retirement, Gray was a resident of West Frankfort, and he opened a museum to showcase his political memorabilia and other mementos and souvenirs. In 1999, he suffered a stroke that left his speech slurred and his right side paralyzed.[31][32]

He died on July 12, 2014, in Herrin, Illinois, at the age of 89.[18][19] He was buried at East Fork Cemetery in West Frankfort.[33]


The United States court house and post office in Benton, Illinois is the Kenneth Gray Federal Building.[34]

In 2008, the post office in West Frankfort was named for him.[35]

Also in 2008, Governor Rod Blagojevich designated Interstate 57 between Mile Post 0 at the Illinois State Line and Mile Post 106 at the Marion/Jefferson County Line as the "Ken Gray Expressway."[36]

The Ken Gray Scholarship was created at John A. Logan College (JALC) in 2008. The scholarship is awarded to JALC students from Franklin County who are in their second year and plan to attend Southern Illinois University.[37][38]

Gray was the subject of a biography, 2009's Pass the Plate: The Legend & Legacy of United States Congressman Kenneth J. Gray, by Maxine Pyle and Marleis Trover.[39]


  1. WSIL-TV, Former Congressman Ken Gray Dead at 89, July 13, 2014
  2. Leigh Caldwell, West Frankfort Daily-American, 'We've Lost a Giant', July 13, 2014
  3. U.S. House of Representatives, Congressional Record: Remarks of Rep. John Shimkus, Volume 154, Part 10, July 9, 2008, page 14505
  4. Reuters, Former U.S. Congressman Ken Gray of Illinois Dies at 89, July 13, 2014
  5. Carbondale Southern Illinoisan, Ken Gray Recognition is Long Overdue, April 8, 2006
  6. Maxine Pyle and Marleis Trover, Pass the Plate: The Legend & Legacy of United States Congressman Kenneth J. Gray, 2009, page 63
  7. Jim Muir, Carbondale Southern Illinoisan, With Honors: Ken Gray Gets WWII Medals, November 12, 2001
  8. Marleis Trover and Maxine Pyle, Carbondale Southern Illinoisan, Ken Gray Knew how to Help Southern Illinois, April 15, 2008
  9. Alton Evening Telegraph, Rep. Gray To Receive SIU Award, February 17, 1968
  10. Eugene P. Trani, Paul Simon Institute, The Man and the Land: The Politics of Paul Simon and Southern Illinois, 1950-1973, 2010, page 51
  11. Illinois Secretary of State, Official vote of the state of Illinois cast at the primary election held on April 11, 1950, page 21
  12. U.S. Government Printing Office, Statistics of the Congressional Election of November 7, 1950, 1951, page 8
  13. Leigh Caldwell, West Frankfort Daily American, 'We've Lost a Giant', July 13, 2014
  14. Harrisburg (Illinois) Daily Register, Articles of Incorporation Which Have Been Filed with the Secretary of State, September 23, 1953.
  15. Leigh Caldwell, Harrisburg (Illinois) Daily Register, 'We've Lost a Giant', July 13, 2014
  16. Maureen Dowd (1982-10-25). "In Washington, D.C.: Last Stop for Union Station". Time. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Rachel Kaufman, Elevation DC, Union Station Marks 25 Years: A Look Back, September 24, 2013
  18. 18.0 18.1 Loney, Jim (13 July 2014). "Former U.S. congressman Ken Gray of Illinois dies at 89". Reuters. Retrieved 14 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 Becky Malkovich, Carbondale Southern Illinoisan, Former Congressman Gray dead at 89, July 13, 2014
  20. Arnold Sawislak, United Press International, Jasper (Indiana) Herald, Congressman’s Hobby Can Bring The House Down, April 12, 1962
  21. Mt. Vernon (Illinois) Register-News, Panel Misses Ken Gray's Secret, November 22, 1966
  22. Richard Phillips, Chicago Tribune, Another Lame Duck Smooths His Feathers, August 15, 1988
  23. Emily Langer, Washington Post, Kenneth J. Gray, Former Illinois Congressman, Dies at 89, July 14, 2014
  24. Walter D. Ray, Southern Illinois University Library, Senator Paul Simon Papers, 1928-2003: Biographical Note, retrieved July 15, 2014
  25. Paul Martin Simon at Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, retrieved July 17, 2014
  26. Congressional Quarterly, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1947-1992: Committee Histories and Member Assignments, 1994, page 352
  27. Congressional Quarterly Almanac, Presiding: Hazardous Duty, 1987
  28. Chicago Tribune, Former Illinois Rep. Ken Gray dies at 89, July 13, 2014
  29. David Hawkings, Roll Call, Congressman of Lost Era Loved Earmarks, Magic Tricks, July 16, 2014
  30. Associated Press News Archive, Illinois Congressman Says He Won't Run In 1988, November 7, 1987
  31. Jeff Smyth, Southern Illinois News (Carbondale), Ken Gray Again Puts his Political Life on Display in his Relocated Museum, April 27, 2003
  32. USA Today, Former Illinois Rep's Museum Contains Political Artifacts, July 31, 2003
  33. Carbondale Southern Illinoisan, Funeral service scheduled for Ken Gray, July 15, 2015
  34. Pro Publica, 2010 Economic Stimulus Funds Expended by General Services Administration, Franklin County, Ill., retrieved July 17, 2014
  35. U.S. Government Printing Office, Congressional Record (House) Volume 154, Number 112, July 9, 2008
  36. Office of the Governor of Illinois, Press release: Gov. Blagojevich renames a portion of I-57 “Ken Gray Expressway”, May 8, 2008
  37. John A. Logan College, Selected Scholarships, retrieved August 9, 2014, page 6
  38. Anna (Illinois) Gazette-Democrat, Obituary, Kenneth J. Gray, July 17, 2014
  39. Stephen Rickerl, Paul Simon Institute, Southern Illinois University, Gray Reflects on Political Career at Book Signing, February 17, 2010

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
C. W. Bishop
U.S. Representative of Illinois' 25th Congressional District
Succeeded by
District eliminated
Preceded by
Peter F. Mack, Jr.
U.S. Representative of Illinois' 21st Congressional District
Succeeded by
Edward R. Madigan
Preceded by
Melvin Price
U.S. Representative of Illinois' 24th Congressional District
Succeeded by
Paul Simon
Preceded by
Paul Simon
U.S. Representative of Illinois' 22nd Congressional District
Succeeded by
Glenn Poshard