The stories about C. Boyden Gray seemed to be endless once word got out that the onetime White House Counsel and ambassador to the European Union died May 21 at age 80.
Gray, who was 80, was the archetypal Washington insider, right out of Allen Drury's Advise and Consent and Gore Vidal's Washington D.C. His gaunt, slightly stooped frame — which conjured comparisons to Ichabod Crane in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"— and ever-ready repertoire of reminiscences' and jokes were fixtures on the Georgetown dinner party circuit and other upscale social venues.
"When I first met the ambassador, I was a guest of a major client at the 16th Street Northwest bank tennis matches in the early 1980s, and of course, Boyden was also a guest and present with a beautiful woman from Moultrie, Georgia," Washington "superlawyer," Bert Pena told Newsmax. "He always reminded me of that meeting, and the fact that I ended up with his date in a year-long romance."
In 2003, Gray and Pena were at a party to toast the appointment of their mutual friend John Roberts to the D.C. Court of Appeals. As Pena put it, "Little did Boyden or I — or John, for that matter — dream that in two years, he would be chief justice of the United States."
Just about everyone who knew or even met Gray quickly gathered that he was "fixed" — that with his heritage and family holdings, he could have gone through life without any need to look for a job.
Grandfather Bowman Gray was president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and father Gordon Gray was a thriving North Carolina publisher and lawyer who served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's National Security Adviser.
The young Gray had no intention of simply living off their laurels.
After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard, he spent five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and became a two-fisted sergeant.
Following his discharge, Gray earned a law degree with honors from the University of North Carolina.
As it did with his father, public service beckoned Gray. In 1981, a family friend and Vice President George H.W. Bush tapped Democrat-turned-Republican Gray as his legal counsel.
"President Reagan had declared regulatory relief a major component of his economic recovery program and assigned Bush the job of running the new Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief," Bob Coakley, a former aide to the late Sen. Lawton Chiles, D-Fla., told Newsmax. "Boyden, as Bush's counsel, was central to the task force and its activities."
The task force itself was central to Reagan's opinion of former rival Bush, as he entrusted the vice president with chairing a panel on an issue about which he felt strongly.
Gray also became a player in informing Bush of the conflicts between Cabinet Secretaries and between agencies and the Office of Management and Budget staff — and when the vice president himself, acting on behalf of Reagan, should step in and stop them from cross-cutting issues.
It was a foregone conclusion that when Bush moved into the White House in 1989, Gray would be his White House counsel.
Gray was one of those who quietly urged the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1990. When Thomas suddenly came under fire during confirmation hearings, Gray offered counsel and encouragement to the embattled nominee.
"In all his relations with Democrats, [Gray] was not presumptuous, nor disdainful," Coakley recalled, "He really approach his tasks seriously, and was mindful of the civil servants in the agencies who were consistently programmatically biased.
Coakley added that Gray "had integrity. And had a profound understanding of the need for executive authority and the nitty gritty of the checks and balances of the three branches of Government."
Years later, in 2006, George W. Bush was president and he turned to Gray as ambassador to the EU. When he left the position after the year, he continued to serve as a special envoy for European Affairs.
In 2016, when many of his fellow "blueblood" Republicans abandoned or even opposed Donald Trump, Gray—who knew it was important to win and make policy — was a vigorous fund-raiser for the Republican nominee. Four years later, as Trump charged fraud in the election he lost to Joe Biden, Gray joined the president's legal team.
Much like onetime Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, a Democrat, and Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, Gray was someone who got every call he made in Washington returned and was able to quietly influence policy. In so doing, he treated all with respect, rarely took any credit, got high marks from the opposing party, and, in the end, showed how Washington could work.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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