WASHINGTON — Arthur Flemming, an aide to every president from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan who was known for his thoughtful approaches to welfare, Medicare, integration and other key social issues of his age, has died of congestive heart failure. He was 91.
Flemming was a Republican who worked for Democrats and Republicans. His true commitment was to the causes he believed in--helping to make the American dream come alive for all citizens, regardless of their race, religion or national origin.
He was known for a calm but outspoken manner and for the unflinching way in which he examined America's social ills and proposed ways to fix them.
"Arthur Flemming was a close friend to me and the first lady," President Clinton said in a statement Sunday. "He transcended party, generation and race in search of consensus on some of the great issues of our day."
In 1994, Clinton awarded Flemming the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
Philip Wogaman, Flemming's pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church, said Flemming had suffered in recent weeks from heart and kidney problems. He died Saturday.
After serving as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare from 1958 until 1961, Flemming headed the U.S. Commission on Aging in 1973-78. He also chaired the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1974 until 1982, when President Reagan fired him after Flemming's six-member panel issued a report harshly critical of the administration's record on desegregation.
Despite his ouster, Flemming found it impossible to remain silent on what he feared was an attempt by the Reagan administration to roll back America's civil rights record.
"All of us, including minorities and women, have something to fear if people succeed in either eliminating or weakening methods we need to use in order to take the Constitution of the United States and make it a living document," Flemming said after Reagan dismissed him. "We believe the Reagan administration actions are in conflict with the Constitution."
After his final government stint, Flemming lent his name and considerable prestige to the Save Our Security Coalition, a group of more than 100 organizations that sought to protect Social Security.
At the same time, he chaired the National Health Care Campaign, a group that advocated comprehensive health care and long-term medical care for all Americans long before it became a hot political topic.
He also served on the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, a private, bipartisan panel of former civil rights officials.
Arthur Sherwood Flemming began his career in Washington, working as a political science instructor at American University and as a political reporter for David Lawrence's U.S. Daily, now known as U.S. News and World Report. He also found time to earn a law degree from George Washington University in 1933.
In 1939, when he was 34, Roosevelt appointed him as a Republican member on the old Civil Service Commission. He returned to academics in 1948 as president of Ohio Wesleyan University, his alma mater, but continued to serve on the Hoover Commission on Government Organization.
By 1953, Flemming was back in Washington, this time as director of the Office of Defense Mobilization in the waning days of the Korean War.
After his HEW stint ended in 1961, he served as president of the University of Oregon, then held the same post at Macalester College in Minnesota, all the while maintaining a home--and a presence--in Washington.
In between--and sometimes coinciding with--his main government jobs, Flemming served in posts in the Labor Department, Atomic Energy Commission, the Peace Corps and other panels.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Bernice, and four children.