WASHINGTON: Robert Gray, an influential Washington, DC, lobbyist and former chairman and CEO of Hill & Knowlton, passed away last Friday. He was 92.
Gray was a pioneer in what is now known as public affairs. After serving as cabinet secretary for President Dwight Eisenhower, he joined H&K in 1961. As a director, he helped to grow its DC office into a major player in the industry.
He left the firm 20 years later to found his own agency, Gray & Co.
Gray worked on President Ronald Reagan’s successful presidential campaign in 1980 and co-chaired Reagan’s inaugural committee. The work earned him the affectionate nickname in the administration of "the First Flack."
Gray built his eponymous shop into one of the most influential lobbying firms in Washington. In 1985, Gray took it public, making it the first PR and public affairs firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange. He later sold a majority interest in the agency to H&K and became its worldwide chairman.
Tom Hoog, vice chairman and former CEO of H+K US, said in a blog post on the agency’s website that Gray was "a visionary and a person of enormous personal class and integrity."
"I always admired his commitment to mentoring young people, providing them the opportunity to be all they can be – it is what has inspired my own commitment to training and mentorship," he said. "He was the consummate leader, a loving friend to all, and a credit to the profession. We will all miss him."
Frank Mankiewicz, an H+K strategic counselor in Washington, said Gray was "a friend and guide, in addition to being a powerful factor in his industry."
"He hired well-known Democrats like me…and when asked what clients we were bringing to the firm, Bob would reply, 'They’re good people; if you hire good, competent people, the clients will follow. That’s how we’re going to build our business,’" Mankiewicz recalled in H+K’s blog post. "We loved him for that confidence, and the trust he placed in each of us."