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Posted: 1:48 PM- Frank William Gay, a senior corporate officer for Howard Hughes and the recent target of a renewed claim on the billionaire's fortune, has died. He was 86.
Gay, who lived in Humble, Texas, a Houston suburb, died in a hospital Monday in Kingwood, Texas, according to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md. The cause was not released.
Family members planned to return Gay's body to Salt Lake City, where he was born, for private services and a burial, said a person familiar with the arrangements who requested anonymity because the family did not authorize the release of any information.
Gay 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 wife and a daughter declined to release any information. The medical institute confirmed Gay's death in a brief announcement on its Web site. He was a trustee from 1984 to 2006.
"He was one of our charter trustees and an important participant in the growth and expansion of the institute, and we wanted to recognize that," spokeswoman Avice Meehan said.
Gay's death came as he was being sued by 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 Melvin Dummar continues to press his case in other courts.
The death "doesn't affect our lawsuit," said Stuart Stein, attorney for Dummar, the frozen-meat deliveryman who has long claimed he was to have been richly rewarded for finding Hughes sprawled face-down and bleeding on a desert road in 1967.
Hughes died in 1976 at age 72.
Dummar's new lawyers and a retired FBI agent claim 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.
Stein said he will substitute the estate of Gay in the lawsuit.
"Unfortunately because of this, we will never be able to get his deposition," he said.
Next week, a federal judge in Salt Lake City will hold a hearing to decide if Dummar's legal team can start taking sworn statements from other Hughes aides and witnesses, including some who say they can place Hughes in the desert.
Stein said many of the witnesses are near death of old age.
Before his death, Gay was outraged over being named in the lawsuit, 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 he wasn't in a position to know whether Hughes occasionally left his Desert Inn penthouse but said it was possible.
"Mr. Gay in his last year, and his wife of 60 years, had to face and defend claims that have no basis in fact and are time-barred," Tomsic said. "I was saddened I wasn't able to put these scurrilous allegations to rest before he died."
Dummar is suing Gay and Hughes' cousin William Lummis, a major beneficiary of the Hughes estate, who settled the estate with 21 distant cousins after years of litigation. Before he died, Hughes already had funded the medical institute, leaving it his stock from Hughes Aircraft Co.
Gay derived his wealth from running Hughes' many business ventures, not from the Hughes estate, lawyers said.
Lummis is retired and living in Texas and "can't believe this is happening," said his Salt Lake City lawyer, Randy Dryer. "It's spinning out of control with Dummar running off to different courts."
Dummar's case has a compelling new witness -- the billionaire's pilot, who says he lost track of Hughes at a rural Nevada brothel near where Dummar says he stumbled across Hughes and drove him to Las Vegas.
"Dummar got screwed, and I hope he gets what's coming," said Roberto Deiro, who was director of aviation facilities for Hughes Tool Co.
He said he often flew Hughes into the desert for a trysts with a diamond-toothed prostitute.
Gay leaves a wife, two sons and a daughter. Frank W. Gay II is chairman and chief executive of supplement maker Nutraceutical Corp. of Park City, Utah, and partner for F.W. Gay & Sons, a private equity firm.
Another son is serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Uganda, Tomsic said.