Gray, Edward Joseph (‘Ned’) (1925–72), director general of the Confederation of Irish Industry, was born 2 May 1925 in Portlaoise, Co. Laois, eldest son among three sons and nine daughters of Michael Gray, army officer, and his wife Mary, daughter of Edward Power of Portlaoise and Katie Power. Educated at Knockbeg College, Co. Carlow (1937–42) and Colaiste Mhuire, Dublin (1942–3), he achieved first place in Dublin in the leaving certificate. Despite being offered a scholarship to UCD he chose instead to sit the junior executive examinations with the intention of entering the civil service straight from school. Achieving first place in Ireland in the examination, he entered (1943) the estate duty office and enrolled to study for the bar at the same time. He qualified as a barrister in 1948. After transferring to the Department of Industry and Commerce (1953), where he spent seven years, he joined the Irish Life Assurance Co. as assistant secretary to the company. Two years later he was promoted to assistant general manager. The following year he left to become personnel adviser to the Irish Banks' Staff Relations Committee (IBSRC) (1963) during a time of upheaval in industrial relations between the latter and the Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA). He played a significant role in negotiations between the IBSRC and the IBOA during the bank officials' strike in 1966.
In 1968 he joined the Federation of Irish Industries (FII). Due to a weak membership base and ever-increasing pressure to create a single Irish body to represent business interests, the future of the organisation was uncertain. He thus set about transforming the backward FII into the Confederation of Irish Industry (CII) (1969–70). Through encouraging company rather than individual membership and restructuring the organisation into specific sector groupings, he helped to increase its membership to the extent that the CII represented 75 per cent of all industrial output at the time of his death. The FII had been largely viewed as reactionary, but Gray's contribution to the formation of policy-making committees within the CII helped it to lead the debate on issues such as entry into the EEC. It was his idea that the remodelled newsletter of the CII should be distributed to the media and public leaders, that helped to transform the image of the organisation into that of the voice in Irish business and industry.
In 1970 he was temporarily released back to the IBSC for the duration of the dispute between the latter and the IBOA. The strike began on 2 March 1970 and the banks closed their doors on 30 April. He thus came to public prominence in his attempt to negotiate a settlement with the IBOA. After months of negotiations a settlement was finally reached and the banks reopened on 17 November 1970. He then returned to his position as director general of the CII. He was killed in the BEA Trident air crash, four miles (6.4 km) from Heathrow airport, along with eleven other prominent figures from Irish business, on 18 June 1972, en route to Brussels for a fact-finding mission in preparation for EC membership.
He lived in Monkstown, Co. Dublin, and later Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. He married (1949) Una, daughter of Patrick Higgins of Kildare, farmer, and Winifred Higgins (née Lennox). They had three sons and two daughters.