Former Congressman Ken Gray Dead at 89

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By WSIL Manager

WSIL -- Former Congressman and well known southern Illinois democrat Ken Gray has died. Gray, 89, passed away a little after 11 p.m. Saturday at Herrin Hospital after battling illness in recent years.

Ken Gray was first elected to Congress in 1954.  He served a total of 25 years, spanning parts of four decades and working alongside eight presidents.

When he first went to Washington, southern Illinois was an impoverished, rural region. Gray set out to bring federal money back to the community.

Gray earned the nickname the "Prince of Pork" for working deals to secure projects for southern Illinois. His legacy is still seen today in landmarks including Rend Lake and Interstate 57. A stretch of the highway through the region now bears his name.

He also made a name for himself establishing new safety regulations for the coal industry. His motivation was the 1951 explosion at West Frankfort's Orient 2 mine that killed 119 men.

Ken Gray was born in 1924 in West Frankfort and graduated from Frankfort High school. He began his career as a car dealer, working alongside his father who owned Gray Motors.  That career was interrupted by World War II, where he served in North Africa, Italy, and France. He became a pilot during the war, and when he returned he operated an air service in Benton.

He was elected to Congress at age 30 and went on to serve 10 consecutive terms.  

After stepping away, he returned for two terms later.

In his later years, he remained a voice in the community, a regular at political events, and an elder statesman weighing in on politics, current events and history.

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