Former U.S. Representative Ken Gray of Illinois, once known as the "Prince of Pork" for his ability to win federal support for his district, has died at age 89. Gray, a Democrat, died Saturday at a hospital in Herrin, Ill., according to the Parker-Reedy Funeral Home in West Frankfort.
“Ken Gray was a gentleman and statesman who never tired of advocating for his beloved state and region,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement. “Congressman Gray was the people's voice.”
Born on Nov. 14, 1924, in West Frankfort, Gray served with the army and air force in North Africa, Italy, southern France and central Europe during World War Two, according to his congressional biography.
He served in Congress from Jan. 3, 1955, until his resignation on Dec. 31, 1974, and then again from Jan. 3, 1985 to Jan. 3 1989.
In 24 years in Congress he delivered $7 billion for regional projects including interstate highways and the creation of a lake to provide drinking water, The Southern Illinoisan newspaper said.
Gray was a used-car dealer, magician and licensed auctioneer — all skills that worked well with his largely rural constituency. The late U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon, in his recent biography, said House Speakers Sam Rayburn and Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, regularly called upon the often-flamboyantly dressed Grey to preside over the chamber.
Gray was often dressed in flashy sportcoats and dyed and permed his hair. He opened up a museum in his hometown of West Frankfort to mark his career. In 2008, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich marked a section of Interstate Highway 57 as the “Ken Gray Expressway” to honor his efforts for improving transportation and other public works in the region.
In a 2008 interview with the newspaper, Gray, citing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the lake had saved more than $100 million worth of property downstream during flooding years earlier.
"If that is pork, pass me the plate, because I'll take another heaping serving," he said.
Tribune reporter Rick Pearson and Reuters contributed.