Frank William Gay, a senior corporate officer for Howard Hughes and a recent target of a renewed claim on the billionaire's fortune, died Monday in a hospital in Kingwood, Texas, according to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 86.
The medical institute confirmed Gay's death in a brief announcement on its website but did not specify a cause. He was a trustee from 1984 to 2006.
Gay, who lived in the Houston suburb of Humble, ran Hughes' holding company, Summa Corp., and was on the executive committee that ran his medical institute.
Gay also served as chairman of Hughes Air Corp., a holding company for Hughes Airwest Airlines, and was a senior vice president and board member for Hughes Tool Co.
Gay's death came as he was being sued by Melvin Dummar, a Utah man who insists he rescued Hughes in the Nevada desert and was supposed to have been left $156 million in a handwritten will.
A Las Vegas jury in 1978 rejected the will as fake, but Dummar continues to press his case in other courts.
The death "doesn't affect our lawsuit," said Stuart Stein, attorney for Dummar, a frozen-meat deliveryman who has long maintained that he found Hughes sprawled face-down and bleeding on a desert road in 1967.
Hughes died in 1976 at age 70.
Dummar's lawyers and a retired FBI agent allege that Hughes' aides lied when they testified at the Nevada trial that their boss was holed up at a Las Vegas hotel and couldn't have been in the desert. Gay is included in the lawsuit because he was a senior executive for Hughes' enterprises.
Before his death, Gay was outraged over being named in the suit, declaring, "I don't have anything to do with it," according to his Salt Lake City attorney, Peggy Tomsic.
Tomsic said Dummar can't specify any wrongdoing by Gay, who testified years ago that he wasn't in a position to know whether Hughes occasionally left his Desert Inn penthouse but said it was possible.
Dummar is suing Gay and Hughes' cousin William Lummis, a major beneficiary of the Hughes estate, who settled with 21 distant cousins after years of litigation.
Before he died, Hughes already had left his stock from Hughes Aircraft Co. to the medical institute.
Gay derived his wealth from running Hughes' many business ventures, not from the Hughes estate, lawyers said.
A native of Salt Lake City, Gay worked for Hughes' companies for most of his life, starting as a chauffer and errand boy before rising to become a senior executive at Summa Corp.
Gay is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. His family plans a private service in Salt Lake City.