On this day in 1969, Herbert Gray was appointed minister without portfolio in the Liberal government of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, becoming the country’s first Jewish cabinet minister. His parliamentary career spanned from 1962 to 2002, making him Canada’s longest-serving MP.
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Herbert Eser Gray, known as Herb, was born in 1931 in Windsor, Ontario, to two Belarusian-born parents. He was educated as a lawyer, and worked in the field from 1956 until his first bid for parliament, in the Windsor riding district of Essex West, later called Windsor West, to which he was reelected a subsequent 12 times. His cabinet positions (held under prime ministers Trudeau, John Turner and Jean Chretien) included minister of national revenue, minister of industry, trade and commerce, solicitor-general (a position responsible for internal security), and, from 1997 to 2002, deputy prime minister, under Chretien. When the liberals were in opposition, he served as opposition house leader and later, briefly in 1990, as head of the opposition.
Though well-liked for his integrity and intelligence, Gray always had a reputation for a certain blandness, earning the nickname “Gray Herb.” Yet, he is also well known in Canada for his great knowledge and love of rock music: particularly his partiality to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Fine Young Cannibals.
Following his retirement from Parliament in 2002, Gray was appointed Canadian chair of the International Joint Commission, a Canadian-American organization dealing with air and water rights between the two countries. In 2008, he became chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa, a position he held until last year.