WASHINGTON, DC—Robert Gray, former chairman and CEO of Hill & Knowlton and a pioneer in the public affairs business, passed away in Miami last week. He was 92.
Gray joined H&K in 1961 after serving in the US Navy and as Cabinet Secretary for President Dwight Eisenhower and as director of its Washington, DC, office played an early role in developing the practice of modern public affairs.
Having worked on President Richard Nixon's election and later as deputy director of the Reagan-Bush presidential campaign and co-chairman of Ronald Reagan's first presidential inauguration, he started his own firm, Gray & Company, which was sold to H&K in 1986. He remained with the firm until 1992, when he stepped down.
A moderate Republican, Gray built a genuinely bipartisan business, hiring Frank Mankiewicz, a former press secretary to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who remains a senior counselor with H+K Strategies today and recalls: “Bob was a friend and guide, in addition to being a powerful factor in his industry. He hired well-known Democrats like me and Gary Hymel, 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.’”
At the same time, Gray worked for a number of controversial clients, ranging from the Haitian government under Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon to the Church of Scientology. Some of the more controversial aspects of his work were chronicled in the book “The Power House: Robert Keith Gray and the Selling of Access and Influence in Washington” by Susan B. Trento.
According to Tom Hoog, vice chairman and former CEO of H+K US: "Bob 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…. He was the consummate leader, a loving friend to all, and a credit to the profession. "