Gray

Gray, a prince of a pilot

Flies above lake he helped create
2013-05-31T00:00:00Z Gray, a prince of a pilotBY BECKY MALKOVICH, The Southern The Southern
May 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Retired Congressman Ken Gray took to the sky for a sentimental journey Thursday.

Gray, 88, took the controls aboard one of Black Diamond Aviation’s helicopters, allowing him a bird’s-eye view of Southern Illinois.

In particular, Gray wanted to see Rend Lake and Interstate 57, two projects created with some of the money he brought back home during his 24-year tenure in Congress.

Gray was able to secure $7 billion for regional projects like Rend Lake, the manmade lake that provides flood control and holds the water used by about 175,000 people in some 60 Southern Illinois communities.

The lake, which reached normal pool 40 years ago, is also one of the region’s top tourist destinations, drawing 3.2 million visitors a year.

Those recreational visitors have an estimated $85 million impact on Franklin and surrounding counties. The lake also supports 1,144 private sector jobs.

Not bad for one of the regional projects that helped land Gray the title “The Prince of Pork,” a title earned through his affinity for pork barrel politics, or appropriating federal money for projects and programs that benefited the constituents in his district.

“If that is pork, pass me the plate, because I’ll take another heaping serving,” Gray said of projects like Rend Lake in a previous interview with The Southern Illinoisan.

Gray, a native of West Frankfort, flew helicopters and B-25s in World War II, he said, and was at ease in the pilot’s seat for his journey Thursday.

“It’s wonderful. It feels wonderful,” Gray said of his return to flight.

Gray’s journey came about through a conversation between Black Diamond’s Rodney Cabaness and Gray’s grandson Josh Joiner.

“I’ve known Ken a long time and knew he was a longtime pilot,” Cabaness said. “When he said Ken was interested in flying again, that was all I needed to know. I told him we would make it happen.”

The helicopter made a stop in Marion, where family, friends and onlookers cheered Gray on in flight.

“This was really important to him and he had a lot of fun,” Gray’s wife, the Rev. Margaret “Toedy” Holley-Gray, said. “He said the lake was so beautiful from up there — it looked bigger and even more beautiful than usual.”

Shad Zimbro of Black Diamond was among those gathered for Gray’s Marion landing.

“We’re glad we could be a part of this. As much as he’s done for Southern Illinois, it’s no problem whatsoever,” he said.

beckymalk@gmail.com

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On Twitter: @beckymalkovich

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(6) Comments

  1. OLD JOE
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    OLD JOE - May 31, 2013 3:13 pm
    Stump, correct. If you ask Ken for help, he would have your back, you wasn't forgotten about! We have a different breed of politicians today.
  2. StumpBrokeMule
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    StumpBrokeMule - May 31, 2013 2:51 pm
    No one person has done more for Southern Illinois than Ken Gray. Along the way he also did a lot for himself and brother Ralph. Gray Plaza Inns and Rip Rap deals for Rend Lake and I-57; these are small potato's when you think of the impact that he has had on the area. I wish
    that he was still in Washington. Maybe he could teach those morons there now a thing or two. Good luck Mr. Gray and that you for all that you have done.
  3. OLD JOE
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    OLD JOE - May 31, 2013 2:29 pm
    Are you saying there has been a mainman in the wood pile? lol.
  4. HMmmmsez
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    HMmmmsez - May 31, 2013 9:36 am
    I remember Kenny Gray driving a pink & white caddy two door.
  5. OLD JOE
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    OLD JOE - May 31, 2013 7:06 am
    Ken Gray the king of pork. Back in the 70's I knew Ken's brother quite well "Paul". I used to do a little work for Paul on his Motels. One thing I can say for the Gray's. If they spent a nickle, they got a dime back. Ken may be known as the king of pork, but his pork spending payed off for southern Illinois. Can you imagine southern Illinois without I-57 or Rend Lake?
  6. mainman
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    mainman - May 31, 2013 6:01 am
    Remember when he came to pick up Mr. Simon at the federal building for lunches !

    He's a good guy and has done a lot of for So. Illinois !!

    I also enjoyed his good looking women friends !!!
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