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Willard Wirtz, 98; labor secretary for Democratic presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson

Willard Wirtz, a lawyer and longtime public servant who was secretary of labor under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, died Saturday at an assisted living facility in Washington. Mr. Wirtz, the last survivor of the Kennedy Cabinet, was 98.

After serving as undersecretary of labor at the start of the Kennedy administration, he was named to the top post in 1962 when Kennedy nominated then-Secretary Arthur Goldberg to the Supreme Court.

During his career at the Labor Department, Mr. Wirtz was credited with forestalling or ending several high-profile strikes, including a longshoremen's strike and another affecting New York's newspapers.

In the Cabinet, Mr. Wirtz helped create programs and policies of Johnson's "War on Poverty." He was a vigorous advocate of retraining for workers to cut unemployment. He sought legislation to root out causes of joblessness and championed remedial education for school dropouts.

Johnson relied on him heavily, and the two were close. But after he sent a note to Johnson expressing misgivings over the Vietnam War, "that was the end of the close relationship," Mr. Wirtz told National Public Radio in 2008. But he remained in the Cabinet.

William Willard Wirtz was born March 14, 1912, in DeKalb Ill., attended Beloit College in Wisconsin and graduated in 1937 from Harvard Law School. He was on the faculties of the University of Iowa and Northwestern University law schools before serving during World War II with the War Labor Board. In 1946, he chaired the National Wage Stabilization Board. A skillful writer, he prepared speeches for Adlai Stevenson during the Democrat's presidential campaigns.

In the 1960s, as urban tensions grew, Mr. Wirtz met regularly with black leaders in Washington and supplied federal money for a jobs program in the city. In later years, he headed the city's public employee relations board.

Other deaths

Allison Stacey Cowles, a member of a Spokane, Wash., family with large media holdings and the wife of retired New York Times patriarch Arthur Sulzberger, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 75.

Alan Sillitoe, a British writer whose Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner chronicled the bleak postwar realities of the Britain's poor, died in London at 82.

Associated Press

Willard Wirtz, 98; labor secretary for Democratic presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson 04/25/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 25, 2010 10:19pm]
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