HERRIN, IL (KFVS) - A longtime congressman from southern Illinois has died.
Former Illinois U.S. Rep. Kenneth "Ken" J. Gray, 89, died Saturday, July 12 at the Herrin hospital at 11 p.m.
That's according to a spokesperson at the Parker-Reedy Funeral Home in West Frankfort.
We are told family will be meeting and making arrangements with the Parker-Reedy Funeral Home on Monday.
Gray served in congress from 1955 to 1974 and again from 1985 to 1989. The Democrat was born in West Frankfort, Illinois.
West Frankfort Mayor Tom Jordan explained that Gray was a down-to-earth person.
"When he came here [to West Frankfort], he was Ken Gray," Jordan said. "He knew the people he went to high school with and people he grew up with."
"He was just a person you could approach and talk to, wanted to listen to your problems," Jordan said. "I think that is what made him succeed in public service."
Jordan says that he looks up to Gray in many ways.
"He accomplished a lot. His desire to help Southern Illinois was very apparent," Jordan said. "And I think that his legacy is one that anybody could aspire to."
He earned the nickname "Prince of Pork," as Gray is credited for bringing about $7 billion in federal projects to his district.
That includes the creation of Interstate 57 in southern Illinois, bringing the federal prison to Marion and creating Rend Lake.
Governor Rod R. Blagojevich renamed a section of Interstate 57 in honor of Gray in 2008.
“I’m honored to be able to receive this award, and I consider it an award, because I worked 52 years to get it,” Congressman Gray said in 2008. “52 years ago, I sponsored the Highway Bill, to give us 42,500 miles of Interstate. A couple of years later, I put in 1,000 miles more, so I would be able to get Interstate 24 here. This is a great honor and I am very humbled to receive it.”
The section of Interstate is known as the “Ken Gray Expressway.”
Congressman John Shimkus (R-Illinois-15) released the following statement on the passing of former Illinois Congressman Ken Gray:
"I was saddened to learn of Kenny Gray's passing on Saturday. Kenny was a larger than life advocate for southern Illinois with a legacy that brought us Rend Lake and the Interstate Highway System. In a era of bland politicians, I remember Kenny's colorful personality fondly. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Toedy as well as his family and friends in West Frankfort and across the state."
U.S. Congressman Bill Enyart (IL-12) released a statement today on the passing of former U.S. Congressman Ken Gray,
"I was saddened to hear of Ken's passing," said Enyart. "His contributions to Southern Illinois have been and will be felt for generations to come. From Rend Lake to interstate highways to countless jobs, Kenny was a true advocate for the good people of this area. His colorful suits, sense of bipartisanship, and friendship will be missed by so many across the country. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to his wife, Toedy and his family and friends in West Frankfort."