Durbin Pays Tribute To Former Congressman From Southern Illinois Kenny Gray
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In a statement for the Congressional Record, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today honored Kenny Gray, who served as the U.S. Representative for Southern Illinois from 1954 to 1989 and passed away last week at the age of 89. A World War II veteran and native of West Frankfort, Illinois, Representative Gray was elected to 10 consecutive terms in Congress and helped write the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, which created America’s interstate highway system.
“You could never forget Kenny Gray. With his rainbow of sport coats and personal helicopter, Kenny was a legend. He even had a pink Cadillac. His repertoire of jokes borrowed heavily from Red Skelton and hometown stories from Little Egypt,” Durbin said.
“Congressman Gray took great pride in the regional improvements he helped steer to his region. His work made a real difference in the daily lives of Southern Illinoisans.”
The full text of Senator Durbin’s Statement for the Record is below:
Senator Richard Durbin
Statement for the Congressional Record
July 15, 2014
Today, we mourn the loss of a Southern Illinois legend, Congressman Ken Gray. Kenny had many roles in his lifetime. He was a licensed auctioneer, a pilot, and a magician. But he made his greatest mark serving the people of Southern Illinois in the United States House of Representatives for nearly a quarter of a century.
Kenny was a World War II veteran who served with the Army and Air Force in North Africa, Italy, Southern France and Central Europe. After the war, he operated an air service in Benton, Illinois.
He was elected to Congress in 1954 at the age of 30 and went on to serve ten consecutive terms. When he first went to Washington, Southern Illinois was an impoverished, rural area. Congressman Gray took great pride in the regional improvements he helped steer to his region. His work made a real difference in the daily lives of Southern Illinoisans.
His constituents loved him and, the House entrusted him with increasing responsibilities. Speakers of the House Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neil regularly called on him to preside over the chamber.
You could never forget Kenny Gray. With his rainbow of sport coats and personal helicopter, Kenny was a legend. He even had a pink Cadillac. His repertoire of jokes borrowed heavily from Red Skelton and hometown stories from Little Egypt.
Among his notable achievements in Congress: Ken helped write the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, which created America’s interstate highway system. Kenny kept the pen that President Dwight D. Eisenhower used to sign the historic legislation.
With President Deltye Morris, Kenny Gray helped to put Southern Illinois University Carbondale on the map as a leading university in America.
Today the section of Interstate 57 between Mile Post 0, at the Illinois State Line, to Mile Post 106, at the Marion/Jefferson County Line, is known as Ken Gray Expressway in honor of his role in the creation of America’s highway system.
You can also see Kenny Gray’s legacy in Rend Lake, which was created by the Army Corps of Engineers and supplies 15 million gallons of water per day to 300,000 people in more than 60 Southern Illinois communities. Rend Lake has saved more than $100 million worth of property downstream during flood years – and it would not exist without Kenny Gray’s leadership.
Congressman Gray stepped away from Congress in 1974. My mentor Paul Simon succeeded him in Congress. When Paul ran for the Senate in 1984, Kenny Gray returned to Congress to serve two more terms. In 1988, Kenny left Congress for the last time to come home after developing a muscular disorder caused by a tick bite on a Congressional visit to Brazil.
Ken Gray passed away just days after we lost another Illinois political giant with whom he served in Congress, Senator Alan Dixon.
Alan Dixon once said of Kenny Gray, “A true political legend, Gray never was defeated. He just quit.”
Congressman Gray remained a voice in the community after leaving Congress. We will miss that voice, but we won’t forget his achievements.
I want to express my condolences to Kenny’s family, especially his wife, Margaret “Toedy” Holley-Gray, his daughters, Diann, Becky and Candy, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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