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Fred Dutton, 82; Key Aide to Kennedys and Gov. Pat Brown

June 27, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Fred Dutton, a Democratic power broker in both Washington and California who served as assistant to President John F. Kennedy and chief of staff for Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, has died. He was 82.

Dutton died Saturday at George Washington University Hospital in the nation's capital of complications from a stroke.

Known for his pixie-like demeanor and easy rapport with everybody, including politicians, members of the news media, business executives and student demonstrators, Dutton moved easily on the world stage. Since 1975 he had been Washington counsel and lobbyist for Saudi Arabia. In that role he was generally credited for maneuvering through Congress the approval of major arms sales to the kingdom in 1978 and 1981.

An influential intellectual who could impishly throw a gleeful "hee-hee-hee" into conversations or national interviews, Dutton wrote two books on national politics: "Changing Sources of Power: American Politics in the 1970s," published in 1971, and "Election Guide for 1972" in 1972. He also contributed frequent Op-Ed articles to The Times and other newspapers and was paired for some months with Ronald Reagan's campaign chief John Sears on PBS' "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour."

After campaigning for Kennedy, Dutton moved to Washington in 1961 as his assistant for interdepartmental and intergovernmental affairs and secretary of the Cabinet. He later transferred to the State Department as assistant secretary for congressional affairs.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 28, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Dutton obituary -- An obituary in Monday's California section of lobbyist and political insider Fred Dutton said Pat Brown was California's first Democratic governor in the 20th century. Democrat Culbert Olson served from 1939 to 1943.

"The relationship of government to the chief executive, whether it is the president or a governor, is somewhat similar," he told The Times as he eased from state to national problem-solving more than four decades ago. But "the governor of California has more space -- and it is more efficiently organized -- than the president. I don't think anyone outside knows how small the White House office is."

When Kennedy was slain, Dutton was tapped as coordinator of the John F. Kennedy Library, where he organized the Kennedy Oral History Project. Loyal to the Democratic party as well as the Kennedy family, Dutton took charge of the platform committee for the 1964 convention and wrote speeches for Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign.

When Robert F. Kennedy ran for president in 1968, Dutton served as behind-the-scenes campaign manager. He was with the candidate when he was slain at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel, and rode with Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, in the ambulance to the hospital. Later, Dutton served as founding director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation.

He also served on the Democratic National Committee's McGovern Commission from 1969 to 1972 to revamp the convention delegate selection process. His effort to include more women prompted feminist Betty Friedan to dub him "the Papa Bear of the women's liberation movement."

Dutton also worked on the presidential campaigns of Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972, but did so reluctantly.

"After Bobby was shot, the lights went out for me," he told The Times in 1981. "I've never really been as involved in presidential politics again as I was then."

The disillusionment helped explain to many why the unabashedly liberal Dutton, who established his Washington law firm in 1965, later agreed to represent the conservative Saudi Arabian government. He became so skillful at negotiating for and with the Saudi royals that one opposing Washington lobbyist dubbed him "Fred of Arabia," alluding to Britain's Lawrence of Arabia.

Dutton's efforts to engineer the sale of defense equipment in 1981 even placed him on the same side as conservative President Reagan, little more than a decade after the two men had clashed when both sat on the UC Board of Regents.

It was Dutton who coined the slogan "Reagan or Begin" -- referring to then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel -- to promote the sale of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes to Saudi Arabia, a transaction that many American Jews saw as a slap at U.S. alliances with Israel.

"I enjoy the intellectual vicariousness of it. They are obviously paying me very well," he told The Times in 1981, explaining his acceptance of the job requiring him to do such varied tasks as lobbying Congress to ship recliners to the Saudi king and defending Saudi students in auto accidents. "And I'm back in politics without it being at the personal level. I'm not back with Bob Kennedy in the hallway of the Ambassador Hotel. I like the fight.... I think international policy is important."

Long before Dutton became a player in national and international politics, he had ensconced himself in California's halls of power.

Born Frederick Gary Dutton on June 16, 1923, in Julesburg, Colo., Dutton moved to San Mateo, Calif., with his parents when he was 7.

He served in the Army during World War II and became a prisoner of war after he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

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