May 1, 1972, L. Patrick Gray III was at the pinnacle of a classic
American success story. From his well-appointed offices as the
deputy attorney general of the United States, Pat Gray could look
back at age fifty-five with justifiable pride at what he had
accomplished in the service of his country and as a beneficiary of
the opportunities and freedoms he had fought for his entire adult
life. It had been an improbable climb, but it was about to end.
The eldest son of a Texas railroad worker who had lost his job in
the Depression, Gray had worked three jobs while bootstrapping
himself through high school, graduating at sixteen after skipping
two grades. He had enrolled at Rice University, where the tuition
was free for a student good enough to be admitted, played football
in the Houston Parks League to bring in a few more dollars for his
family, and kept trying for four years to get what he wanted most:
an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. That appointment
came in 1936, his senior year at Rice, and he dropped out
immediately to accept it. Unable to afford bus or train fare to
Annapolis, Gray hired on as an apprentice seaman on a tramp steamer
out of Galveston where he taught calculus to the ship's master, a
naturalized Bulgarian named Frank Solis, in return for basic lessons
in navigation. The steamer got him to Philadelphia and he hitchhiked
to the Academy, where he walked on to the football field and became
a starting quarterback, played varsity lacrosse, and boxed as a
light heavyweight. His class of 1940, graduating just in time for
World War II, would suffer more wartime losses than any other class
in Academy history. Pat Gray made five submarine war patrols in the
Pacific; at the start of his sixth, he suffered a ruptured appendix
in mid-ocean and couldn't get it removed until he reached the
Galapagos Islands seventeen days later. It should have killed him,
but it didn't.
he would make the two most important decisions of his life: In 1945,
on his way back from the war in the Pacific, he paid a visit to
Beatrice Kirk DeGarmo, the young widow of his classmate Ed DeGarmo,
a highly decorated naval aviator who had been shot down over Okinawa
just weeks before the war ended. A year later Pat and Bea were
married and he adopted her two sons. They would have two more. Also
in 1946, he was selected as one of eighteen out of 625 applicants to
be sent by the Navy to law school at George Washington University.
He graduated juris doctor with honors, Order of the Coif, and member
of the Law Review.
While he was studying in Washington, he met a freshman
congressman named Richard Nixon.
By 1960 he was a navy captain at the front of a fast field of
soon-to-be admirals. Having chosen to stay with submarines as a line
officer rather than leaving them to switch to the Judge Advocate
General corps, Gray had commanded three submarine war patrols in the
Korean conflict and had been given his four captain's stripes two
years before the regulations allowed him to be paid for them.
Promoted to high-level staff duty at the Pentagon, he was
congressional liaison officer for the secretary of defense, the
chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the chief of naval
operations, the famed Arleigh Burke, for whom the navy's
top-of-the-line Burke-class guided missile destroyers would later be
named. When Gray told the two four-stars that he wanted to retire so
he could go to work as a military advisor for Nixon, who was then
vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, both strenuously tried to
talk him out of the decision. "If you stay," said Burke, "you'll
have my job some day."
Pat Gray left anyway, betting that Nixon would defeat John F.
Kennedy in that year's presidential election and that he might then
be able to rise even higher on the civilian side than he might have
in the Navy. Nixon lost, of course, but Gray had a hole card: a
standing offer from a Connecticut law firm. He accepted, but when
Nixon ran again in 1968, Gray stayed in Connecticut. His interest
was in government service, not partisan politics. When Nixon won,
Gray applied for a job. Bob Finch, the newly appointed secretary of
health, education and welfare, hired Gray as his executive
assistant. Gray moved to Washington for a year, but the financial
demands of four college tuitions forced him back to the law firm in
December 1970, he was drawn back into the Nixon administration, this
time as assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Division.
When John Mitchell resigned as attorney general in order to run
Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign, Deputy Attorney General Richard
Kleindienst was elevated to attorney general and Pat Gray was
elevated to the number-two slot at the Justice Department. And it
was there, as deputy attorney general-designate of the United
States, his nomination already reported unanimously out of the
Senate Judiciary Committee and awaiting a certain full-senate
confirmation vote, that Pat Gray found himself on May 2, 1972, the
day that J. Edgar Hoover died. The next day, Nixon and Kleindienst
appointed Gray to be acting director of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, a job he would hold for just 361 days.