Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Summer 2010 (July 21, 2010 at 12:00 am)

W. Willard Wirtz'33


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July 21, 2010 at 12:00 am

W. Willard Wirtz’33, the last surviving cabinet member of the John F. Kennedy administration, died on April 24, 2010, at the age of 98 in Washington, D.C.

A lawyer and labor arbitrator, Wirtz served as U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1962 to 1969, first with Kennedy and later with Lyndon B. Johnson after Kennedy was assassinated.

As Secretary of Labor, Wirtz was a champion of older and minority workers, the unemployed and the underemployed. He was at the center of major labor disputes during the 1960s. Earlier in his career, he served as an advisor and speechwriter for two-time presidential candidate and former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson. He also taught at the University of Iowa and Northwestern University law schools and held a variety of public service posts in government. He served on the Beloit College board of trustees in the early 1950s.

“Of all the strong, intriguing and memorable individuals with whom I worked during my six years in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, none left a more indelible mark on me,” writes noted journalist Bill Moyers. “He was a consummate arbitrator of differences, never seeking celebrity for the victories he achieved quietly behind the scenes of many a strenuous wrangle …” Moyers, who was Johnson’s press secretary, wrote the foreword to Wirtz’s memoirs, In the Rear View Mirror, published by Beloit College Press (2008). 

W. Willard Wirtz'33Wirtz’s dedication to the underprivileged comes across in a 1963 year-end comment he made to the New York Times, which was selected for the quote of the day: “May 1964 be a year when the great majority of Americans who are secure and busy think clearly of the minority who are not.”

Wirtz and Jane Quisenberry’35 started a happy union at Beloit College that would last more than 70 years. They met as students during a social mixer, then married in 1937, the year he graduated from Harvard Law School. Jane Quisenberry Wirtz, also a former Beloit College trustee, died in 2002.

W. Willard Wirtz was born in Dekalb, Ill., in 1912. He is survived by two sons, Philip and Richard, two sisters, and three grandchildren.

The Wirtzes’ legacy continues at Beloit through the Jane Quisenberry Wirtz and W. Willard Wirtz Endowed Scholarship, which is awarded annually to an academically distinguished rising Beloit College junior majoring in political science. Proceeds from the sale of In the Rear View Mirror benefit the scholarship fund. The book is available through the Turtle Creek bookstore, 608-363-2375.

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